Holiday Fire Safety: Fireplaces, Candles and Cooking

Your holiday “Must Dos” probably include buying gifts, preparing for the in-laws, and creating a menu for holiday festivities. But when you’re getting ready for company and enjoying the season, it’s also important to make sure you are keeping your loved ones – and yourself! – safe from accidents. While also enjoying holiday cheer, one thing that should be high on your priority list is preparing your home against fire hazards.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), more than half of home fire deaths occur in the five-month stretch from November to March – and many of those are caused by holiday decorations such as candles and trees. In fact, fires started by holiday decorations tend to be more dangerous (and deadly) than other types of home fires. Therefore, it’s important to stay alert and stay safe during this time of cheer.

In part one of our series on fire safety during the holiday season, we’re talking about flame-related fire safety related to fireplaces, candles, and cooking.

Fireplace

Holiday music is playing on the radio, it’s chilly enough to build a snowman outside, and all you want to do is curl up in a warm blanket by the fireplace with a steaming hot cup of cocoa. Before you get too cozy, there are a few precautions you should take with your fireplace!

First, make sure you aren’t overflowing your fireplace with ornaments or garlands. If you have any decorations that cover, drape, or hang on or above the mantlepiece, make sure they are well secured and are not going to go into the fire if they fall. It might go against tradition, but perhaps you should find somewhere else in the house to hang those stockings with care.

If you have children or pets – or if any are coming to visit your home for the holidays – be sure to install a screen to guard the fireplace opening and the surrounding hearth. This will not only protect little ones from the actual flames of the fire, but it can also prevent children who are learning to walk from tripping and falling on a stone hearth.

Candles

Candles are responsible for 45% of fires during the holiday season, with most of those fires igniting in the month of December. The best way to help prevent your house from becoming one of these statistics is to make sure lit candles are far away from any flammable objects such as a tree, wrapped gifts, or hanging ornaments.

This is especially important if you have multiple candles. Spacing them away from each other, as well as away from objects that may burn, is another good practice to consider. If you’re using a menorah or a candelabra, you can have it be prominently placed while still being safe by putting it in the middle of a table or another piece of furniture away from the walls and decorations.

Finally, be sure to use a candleholder! It is possible to find festive candleholders in almost any store during the holiday season (and you can almost certainly pick one up after the holidays on a deep discount for next year). For extra safety, make sure to set your candle and candleholder on a non-flammable surface, in face a candle falls – in a pinch, a baking sheet will do.

The tips above are for candles with wicks and flames, but it is just as important to stay safe with electric candles as well. It might look pretty to have electric candles in the windows, but if they are near drapes, the bulbs can overheat and cause the drapes to burn. Also, watch that you aren’t overloading plugs – and see our other electrical safety tips below.

Get more fire prevention tips in our Fire Safety Guide.

Holiday Cooking

The delicious food is perhaps one of the best things about the holiday season! Whether you’re deep frying a turkey for the big holiday feast, or merely standing by with fork in hand ready to eat whatever comes out of the oven, here are some ideas about how to keep things safe for everyone.

First of all, if you don’t already have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, you should get one right away. It should be a multipurpose fire extinguisher (rated “A-B-C”) so that it is capable of handling everything from cloth and paper fires to flammable liquid fires (such as grease and oil). If you do not have access to a fire extinguisher, a trick to putting out an open flame on the stove (after turning off the burner) is to smother the flame by putting a flat baking sheet or pot lid on the cooking pot. Never try to put out a grease or electrical fire with water.

While having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is useful in the event of a fire, the best thing to do is to prevent fires altogether. Never leave food unattended while it is cooking, especially on the stovetop. For things that are cooking for hours in the oven, check on them periodically, such as every 15-30 minutes, to make sure nothing is smoking or catching fire.

Finally, use a timer. This is not only helpful to cook your food at the tasty level you desire, but it also prevents your food from burning and causing a possible fire in your home.