How Christmas Decorations Cause House Fires: What You Need to Know

Between 2015 and 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 790 home fires per year that started with holiday decorations, according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association, a leading fire protection resource. fire.

Fires caused by holiday decorations, excluding Christmas trees, averaged one death, 26 fire injuries and $13 million in direct property damage.

According to the report, more than two in five decoration fires occur because decorations are placed too close to a heat source.

The most common cause of holiday decorating fires: candles. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, December is the peak month for candle burning and Christmas is the peak day.

Candles contributed to more than a third of home decor fires, 90 deaths, 670 injuries and $291 million in direct property damage over the four years.

Other common holiday decoration fire starters include:

  • Kitchen
  • Electrical distribution and lighting equipment
  • Heating equipment
  • Intentional
  • Smoking equipment

Here’s what you need to know about how to avoid house fires during the holidays, including tips on holiday decorations, fire hazards and guest smokers, according to the NFPA:

  • Some lamps are only intended for indoor or outdoor use, not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with a worn or broken cross or loose bulb connections.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands to connect.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so cords don’t get damaged.
  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
  • Keep children and pets away from lit candles.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside and to keep their equipment with them so that young children do not touch them.
  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before throwing them away.
  • Blow out lit candles when you leave the room or go to bed.
  • Turn off all fairy lights and decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.

For more winter holiday fire safety tips, check out the NFPA’s safety tips guide.

christmas tree lights

While holiday decorating contributed to a large share of holiday fires, so did Christmas trees.

Over the four years, Christmas trees have sparked 160 house fires in the United States a year, causing an average of two deaths, 12 injuries and $10 million in direct property damage.

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in nearly half of residential Christmas tree fires.

And nearly one in five Christmas tree fires were started by decorative lights. In almost a fifth of Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.

Here’s what you need to know about picking, placing, lighting, and tracking your Christmas tree to prevent a home fire, according to the NFPA:

HOW TO CHOOSE A TREE

  • Choose a tree with fresh green needles that don’t fall off when touched.

TREE PLACEMENT

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut two inches from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, heaters, candles, heat registers or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the base of the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

HOW TO SAFELY LIGHT A TREE

  • Use lamps listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Some lamps are only intended for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

WHEN TO GET RID OF THE TREE

  • Dispose of the tree when dry, as dried out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the house, garbage or placed outside against the house.
  • Bring outdoor electric lights indoors after vacation to avoid hazards.

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Brianna Taylor is a service desk reporter for The Sacramento Bee. A former Bee intern, Brianna has also reported from Missouri and Maryland. She graduated from Morgan State University.

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