House fires tend to happen in December and January, and they often are caused by two things: Christmas trees and space heaters unique to the holiday season. Learn how to protect your family from a house fire this holiday season by taking extra precautions with both Christmas trees and space heaters.
House Fires Caused by Christmas Tree Fires
Even though Christmas tree fires are not common, they are more likely to be serious and even deadly than the average house fire when they do occur. Unfortunately, on average one in every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a fatality.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 160 home fires caused by Christmas trees each year. Such home fires resulted in an average of three deaths, 15 injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage each year.
What causes Christmas trees to catch fire? The following are the most common causes of Christmas tree fires:
- 44% of home fires caused by Christmas tree fires were started by faulty electrical distribution or lighting equipment
- 25% caught fire from a candle, fire in the fireplace, or space heater near the tree.
- Children playing with matches or candles.
- 24% are intentional fires
Believe it or not, 24% of house fires blamed on Christmas trees happen because of intentional lighting of the tree. People think they can just stuff the dry tree into the fireplace and light it, but they underestimate the intense heat associated with a dry evergreen tree as it catches fire, and the fire overwhelms the capacity of the fireplace and quickly spreads through the home. Just under half (48%) of these intentional fires occur in January each year.
Christmas Tree Tips
Christmas trees are incredibly effective fuel sources, especially when dry. A blazing Christmas tree can give off as much heat as 40,000 100-watt light bulbs, which is enough heat to cause flashover (sucking of oxygen from a room) which can cause everything in the room to combust. Follow these tips to stay safe:
- Fresh cut your tree when you get it home so it can absorb water better.
- Daily water the tree. A dry tree should immediately be shown the door. If it starts dropping needles, it’s highly flammable and needs to be removed from the home.
- Use only approved Christmas lights. Don’t use more than three strands of lights.
- Toss any strings of lights that have broken bulbs or frayed wires. Needles can get into those vulnerable areas and catch fire.
- Set your tree up AWAY from stairways, where fire could travel up the stairs and block or enter bedrooms.
- Do not set up the tree near a heat source like a fireplace or wood stove.
- Keep space heaters far away from the tree.
- Do not use candles near the tree.
- Don’t use combustible ornaments like pine cones.
- Keep pets away from the tree; if they knock it down, there’s a higher chance it will catch fire.
- Unplug your tree at night.
Note: candles, which are also frequently burned at Christmas, are the cause of two out of every five home decoration structure fires. When do house fires caused by candles most likely? Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve. Be careful with candles, and never light candles on or near a Christmas tree. Yes, they are pretty, but they are also very dangerous.
House Fires Caused by Space Heaters
Space heaters account for only a third of winter heater fires but cause 80% of the deaths. Unlike fires in a fireplace, which people know to put out before going to bed, people view space heaters as safe and leave them running all night long, where they can overheat or get knocked over by pets and start a fire while unattended.
To be safe, always maintain a 36-inch radius around a space heater. That means no drying laundry on or right next to the space heater, and no setting the space heater close enough that a rug or blanket might catch fire. Whatever you do, don’t go to sleep with a space heater on. It’s better to be a little chilly than to risk smoke inhalation or a house fire.
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Quick question & answer: What are the top causes of house fires during the holidays?
Space heaters, Christmas trees and candles cause house fires. To prevent house fires, leave a 36-inch radius around a space heater, water your Christmas tree daily to keep it from becoming a flammable source, and unplug Christmas tree lights at night. Remember not to use any Christmas lights with frayed wires or cracked bulbs. Make sure to keep candles far away from your Christmas tree.