Thanksgiving, Chanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve—these holidays mean celebrations, many of them in decorated homes filled with merry-making family members and friends. Unfortunately, this joyous time is also the height of house fire season. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that the 10 worst days for fires in homes fall between December 24 and January 6. Although Maine homeowners insurance policies cover fire damage, no one wants to suffer a fire.
Fortunately, these risks can be reduced with safe practices that address the “four Cs” of winter fires: chimneys, candles, Christmas trees and children.
Creosote buildup or chimney blockage can catch fire. Chimney fires are unpredictable: they can be noisy and fierce, or can smolder undetected.
- If you haven’t checked or cleaned the chimney in the past two years, don’t use it.
- Have a pro inspect the chimney for creosote (which is what builds up in a chimney and fuels a chimney fire)
- Use dry wood. This minimizes creosote buildup.
- Don’t burn wrapping paper, boxes, trash or Christmas trees.
- Don’t use liquid to start a chimney fire. Use kindling.
Remember fireplace basics, too: use a screen to contain sparks; and let ashes cool before disposing of them in a metal container.
Home-candle fires happen on Christmas Day more often than any other day, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Next worst: New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve. How do they start? Half of home-candle fires begin because an item is left near a lit candle. Four of 10 home candle fires start in bedrooms, with bedding, furniture, and curtains igniting.
- Make sure all candles are out before you leave a room or go to bed.
- Keep clothing, curtains, furniture, and other flammable items away from candles and flame.
- Use candle holders that don’t tip over.
The National Fire Protection Association notes that 300 home fires start each year with Christmas trees. It’s not just live trees; artificial trees also burn. Three major reasons Christmas-tree fires start: electric malfunctions, heat too close to the tree, and children playing with matches, candles, or fireplaces.
- Buy a cut tree that has green, fresh needles.
- Buy an artificial tree that is fire resistant.
- Use a secure stand.
- Locate trees a minimum of three feet from heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators.
- Water live-cut trees every day.
- Use lights listed by an industrial laboratory. Link together, at most, only three strands of bulbs.
- Throw out lights that have frayed or broken cords.
- Pull the plug on lights before going to bed or leaving home.
- When a tree starts dropping needles, it’s time to dispose of it (outside, not in the house, garage or basement).
Perhaps the most unpredictable risks for winter fire are kids who are, naturally, exploring and experiencing the wonders of the winter season. Remember that lights and flames are fascinating to children.
- Watch the wires. Keep kids away from light strands and power cords.
- Matches, candles, stoves and ovens often get extra use during the holidays, at a time when adults are occupied with cooking, cleaning and entertaining. Stop and ask: “What might draw a child’s curiosity in this house?” Then shield children from those items, physically and through discipline and direction.
- Put matches/lighters out of children’s reach. Use lighters that have a child-resistant safety feature.
- Train children to tell an adult if they see matches or lighters.
As always, our Maine insurance agency stands ready to assist our clients with a homeowners insurance claim. The best claim is no claim, though. Use these common-sense practices to prevent home fires.