Glittering decorations, holiday meals and treats, enjoying the warmth of home on a wintry day – these are hallmarks of the holiday season. However, these traditions and festivities also present an increased risk of fire, making December a leading month for U.S. home fires. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are two of the top three days for home cooking fires and the top two days for home candle fires.
Home fires that began when decorations caught fire caused an average of three civilian deaths, 34 civilian fire injuries and $12 million in direct property damage per year from 2013 to 2017. In 44 percent of these fires, the decoration was too close to a heat source. Fifty-seven percent of December home decoration fires were started by candles, compared to 32 percent in January through November. In addition, December is the peak month for candle fires. Sixty percent of home candle fires started because a flammable item was too close to the candle. In 13 percent of the fires, the candle was left unattended or abandoned.
Christmas tree fires are not as common as fires started by other decorations, but when they do occur, they are much more likely to be serious. An annual average of 160 home fires began with Christmas trees. On average, one of every 52 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 135 total reported home fires. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in more than two of every five (44 percent) home Christmas tree fires, with decorative lights the leading type of equipment involved.
Cooking is the leading cause of U.S. home fires year-round; unattended cooking is the leading cause of these fires, accounting for 31 percent of home cooking fires. Christmas Day is the second-leading day for home cooking fires, with 69 percent more fires than the average daily number. Christmas Eve is not far behind, with 58 percent more fires than the daily average.
Heating: Heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires, with nearly half of all home heating fires occurring in December, January and February. The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (27 percent) was failure to clean, principally from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys. Most home heating fire deaths (86 percent) involved stationary or portable space heaters. In the majority of these deaths, something that could catch fire was too close to the heater.
All that noted, there's no need to be bah humbug about the holidays! Once you know where potential hazards exist, there are many simple steps you can take to ensure a festive, fire-safe season, and we’ve got plenty of them! Check out our tips and resources at www.nfpa.org/holiday.