During the holidays and throughout winter, the use of fireplaces, candles, furnaces and decorative lights goes up. So does the risk of a home fire, says Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Residential fires during the winter are responsible for more than 900 deaths and 3,800 injuries each year.
Keep your home safe with these precautions:
- Only burn seasoned hardwood in your fireplace. Never toss trash, gift wrap or branches from your old Christmas tree into the flames.
- Extinguish candles if you’re feeling drowsy. According to the NFPA, 36 percent of residential candle fires start in the bedroom. Blow out candles before you fall asleep to prevent curtains or bedding from catching on fire.
- Keep your Christmas tree watered. Water it daily to prevent it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. When needles begin to fall off or break rather than bend, it’s time to dispose of the tree.
- Check electric cords for damage. Frayed cords and exposed wires are a major fire hazard, especially when they rest on Christmas tree branches and other flammable materials. When decorating outdoors, prevent cord damage by using clips to hang lights—don’t use nails or staples.
- Have your fireplace professionally cleaned. According to the NFPA, creosote buildup is responsible for 22 percent of home heating fires. Avoid the danger with an annual chimney inspection and cleaning.
- Opt for smoke alarms with battery backup. Winter storms can knock out the power and prevent electric smoke alarms from functioning. Make sure your alarms have a battery in place to keep them functioning no matter what.
- Get the right extension cord. If you need an extension cord for items such as space heaters, make sure the cord is the same size or larger than the cord being plugged into it and that it can handle the amp load.
- Keep walkways clear. Keep Christmas trees, decorations, furniture and other items from blocking from your home’s exits. If a fire breaks out, this will help everyone get out safely. “Make sure that there are two ways out of every room,” Carli says. As an extra safety precaution, Carli recommends that families practice their fire escape plans in the winter as well as in the summer to account for seasonal changes such as ice and snow.