CHICAGO – Cooking, entertaining, and decorating are hallmarks of the holiday season, but they also can lead to increased fire risks, according to the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM).
“By understanding where potential hazards exist, and making some minor adjustments, people can greatly increase their homes’ and loved ones’ safety for a worry free celebration,” said State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis.
OSFM offers the following facts and advice about the leading causes of holiday fires:
Cooking equipment fires are the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries, and the third leading cause of home fire deaths. In 2008, the number of home cooking equipment fires nationally was 55 percent higher on Christmas Eve and 68 percent higher on Christmas Day as compared to an average day,.
• Stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling or broiling food.
• Most cooking fires involve the stovetop. Keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time.
• If you’re simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
• For homes with children, create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
Annually in the U.S., fire departments respond to roughly 260 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees. One in three is caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source that was too close to the tree.
• If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
• If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 1-2” from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of LED strands it is safe to connect.
• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the room or going to bed.
• After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
December is the peak month for home candle fires, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day representing two of the top five days for associated fires. More than half of all candle fires start when they are placed too close to combustible household items (i.e. curtains, lamp shades, other fabrics, plastic) and holiday decorations (i.e., trees, garland, stockings, wrapping paper, wrapped/boxed gifts).
• Consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.
• Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces.
• Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where two of five U.S. candle fires begin, or other areas where people may fall asleep.
• Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
For more information about fire safety and prevention, please visit www.state.il.us/osfm or www.nfpa.org.