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Simple Precautions for Remaining Fire Safe During Holidays, Winter Months

December 23, 2011

CAL FIRE are reminding everyone about fire safety during the holiday season and throughout the winter months. During the Christmas holiday, Christmas tree fires are a real danger. While they are uncommon, when they do occur, they have a higher chance of being deadly.

Christmas Tree Fire Facts

  • One of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems;
  • Christmas tree fires are uncommon, but more often are deadly;
  • A heat source too close to the tree causes one in every five of the fires.

Christmas Tree Safety

As you deck the halls this holiday season, be fire smart. A small fire that spreads to a Christmas tree can grow large very quickly. After Christmas, get rid of the tree when it is dry. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, nor placed outside against the home. Check with your local community to find a recycling program. Many service organizations will collect your Christmas tree for a small donation. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

Picking the tree

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing the tree

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1–2” from the base of the trunk;
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights;
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit;
  • Add water to the tree stand;
  • Be sure to add water daily; and
  • Keep an appropriately rated fire extinguisher nearly.

Lighting the tree

  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only 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.
  • Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of LED strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Simple precautions should also be followed when using wood fuel for heating. During the cold winter months, many people use wood-burning appliances for heat. More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.


Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential fires in rural areas every year. Often, these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.

Remember these simple safety tips:

  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a competent and qualified chimney specialist;
  • Only use seasoned firewood. Green firewood is difficult to burn and creates creosote;
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations, and flammable materials;
  • Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney;
  • Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area;
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door;
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures;
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise, you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire;
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves; and
  • Keep an appropriately rated fire extinguisher handy.

For additional tips, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website US Fire Administration.