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Fire-Safety Tips for the Holidays: How to Decorate, Celebrate and Avoid Tragedy

Christmas tree next to fireplace

Christmas tree next to fireplace

foto: Getty

Year after year, the festive Winter holiday season is interrupted by heartbreaking news of deadly house fires. In some cases, it’s the centerpiece of the holiday — the Christmas tree — that sets tragedy into motion.

Ano passado, a Pennsylvania father and his two sons, idades 8 e 11, were killed when their tree caught fire on Christmas morning. The blaze, which police believed may have started with Christmas lights on their tree, completely destroyed the family’s home.

No 2020, two children in Washington had to jump out of a third-story window to escape their apartment after their tree began to burn. E em 2019, a California father and his three children were killed when their Christmas tree ignited, causing their home to go up in flames.

Holidays are meant to be a time of joy,” says fire safety expert James W. Tomes, who spoke with PEOPLE about keeping homes safe during the holidays.

A fire that maybe burns someone’s house down or at a minimum burns down their Christmas presents, that’s sad enough,” says Tomes, 55, the president and CEO of Phoenix-based Telgian, a leading company in the fire-protection industry. “But God forbid, somebody loses life during a holiday fire — that’s something that will be with that family the remainder of their lives.

Christmas Tree Fire

Christmas Tree Fire

Though he doesn’t want people to be afraid of celebrating and decorating for the holidays, Tomes also wants to help people stay safe.

I don’t believe in scaring people,” Tomes says, “but there have been some horrific fires and deaths.Here are his tips:

Hanging Holiday Lights

Check them carefully. Look to see if there’s a nick in the chords, or the bulbs are cracked. “If it looks old and beat up, it’s probably not safe,” Tomes says. “After time, it’s just safer and wiser to go out and buy some new lights.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some indoor lights cannot be hung outside asthey’re not as ruggedand are thereforemore susceptible to damage.

If you need to shop for a new set of lights to make your tree, yard or windows dazzle, be sure to look for theULon the box, which stands forUnderwriters Laboratories.

Chevy Chase National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - 1989

Chevy Chase National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - 1989

Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

That means they’ve done testing to make sure that the product is safe, and was designed properly,” Tomes explains. And if you don’t have the box anymore, you can look on the attached tag, Enquanto o “ULis also often on the plug.

Também, avoid using a staple gun to keep lights in place —use plastic clips when putting up your lights— and overloading circuits. If you’re using incandescent lights, only string two or three together. De outra forma, Tomes says, “they’ll cause too much heat in those wires, and that can also cause a problem.

When it’s time to take down your lights and store them away until next year, carefully wrap them in the original packaging and then place them in a plastic container. This helps lights last longer and prevents mice from chewing on a tangled ball of string lights. “The more protected they are, o melhor,” Tomes says.

Picking a Tree

If you’re decorating with a live Christmas tree, “make sure it’s fresh,” Tomes suggests. Falling needles meanthe tree’s already dyingand you should find another one as dead trees dry up quickly, making them more flammable.

When shopping for a live tree, always ask for afresh cutat the lot, or remove two inches from the bottom of the trunk when you get home.

It’s also important to water your tree daily. “Keep that tree as fresh as you can,” Tomes says. If it gets too dry, it couldgo up like a Roman candle,” ele diz, noting that in addition to burning quickly, dry trees put off a lot of heat when they burn. “It can quickly overwhelm a building.

burning christmas tree

burning christmas tree


In terms of placement, keep the tree at least three feet from any heat source (including the fireplace) and Tomes urges people not to use candles to light up their Christmas trees.

Most Christmas tree fires happen with live trees, according to Tomes, who suggests considering an artificial tree that is treated with a fire-retardant spray. “They can still catch fire,” he warns, before noting that it’s typically notas dramatic.

Decorating a Fireplace

It might be tempting to hang Christmas stockings above a wood-burning fireplace, but putting them in front of flames could spell trouble.

Hang the stockings a little further away,” Tomes suggests. “If you’re burning real wood, you’ll get embers that come off and you’ll hear the snap, crackle and pop of a fire. Those can get in the stocking material and could cause a fire.

If hanging your stockings over the fireplace mantle is a must, he recommends placing them on the ends rather than the center.

house on fire

house on fire


Other things to be wary of are decorating your mantle with live greenery — as pine branches dry out, a spark from the fire could easily catch andit will burn quite rapidly— and displaying holiday cards or crafts on the mantle. Em vez de, Tomes recommends an entry table for festive displays.

Two out of every five decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source,” ele explica, which includes fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, kitchen stoves and anything that has an open flame.

Burning Candles and Lighting a Menorah

It’s a joyous season,” Tomes says. “No matter what your faith or persuasion, candles are involved.” Mas gatos, kids or tipsy house guests can easily knock them over.

About a third of all decoration house fires are caused by candles, according to Tomes.

While placing a wreath around a candle might make a beautiful centerpiece, it can be risky. Wreaths aren’t usually watered after you bring them home from the store, so they dry out and can catch fire quickly, Tomes says. He recommends using an electric candle instead.

Lit candles in a menorah with a women working in the kitchen in the background, commonly used during the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah.

Lit candles in a menorah with a women working in the kitchen in the background, commonly used during the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah.


It’s best to have candles off by themselves,” Tomes says. “I’m not anti-candle. I love real candles. But just make sure your candles are freestanding and not near other things that can burn.

When it comes to menorahs, Tomes suggests keeping the surface around it clear — and not piling up presents, stuffed animals or greenery around it. Oh, and always make sure to blow out every candle before going to bed or leaving the house.

Cooking a Holiday Feast

Home fires caused by cooking peak at Thanksgiving and Christmas, de acordo com National Fire Protection Association, which states thatunattended cooking was the leading cause of cooking fires and casualtiesin a recent report.

In the holiday kitchen, “there’s just so much more going on,” says Tomes. “When I’m entertaining guests, I’m going back to make sure the right music is on, to make sure there are cocktails, and I might have a sauce simmering on the stove. Multitasking. That’s what makes holiday cooking more of an issue — you’re distracted.

Table is set up for Holiday dinner. On the table is a traditional stuffed roasted turkey with side dishes and Christmas decoration

Table is set up for Holiday dinner. On the table is a traditional stuffed roasted turkey with side dishes and Christmas decoration


Grease fires — which happen when oils or fats get hot enough to ignite — are also a big concern. If something cooks down too far, “it can catch fire in the bottom of the pan,” Tomes explains.

Nunca perca uma história - inscreva-se em Boletim semanal gratuito da PEOPLE para receber as maiores notícias da semana em sua caixa de entrada todas as sextas-feiras.

Even more common, no entanto, é “when something bubbles up and boils over, or you’re transferring something to another pot and you spill it,” ele diz. Por exemplo, be careful when pouring melted butter from one pan to another when making rich holiday food. If it splatters on a hot stove, it can flame up.

Keep a fire extinguisher close to or in your kitchen, Tomes suggests, and know how to use it. Remember toPASS” ou “pull the pin, aim, squeeze and sweep.

Before Bedtime

Although holiday lights can spread cheer on cold winter nights, they shouldn’t stay on while you sleep. One solution could be to set a timer, so all decorative lights inside, outside and on your Christmas tree go off at 11 PM., Tomes says.

As for why that’s important, Tomes explains thatif you’re asleep, and something happens, you have less time to react. Mais, by the time you’re awake and aware of what’s going on, the house may already be filled with flames and smoke.

Christmas lights plugged in at night and going on fire

Christmas lights plugged in at night and going on fire


Opening Presents

A warm fire on Christmas morning is delightful, but opening up presents too close to the fire is definitely frightful.

If you’ve got the fireplace roaring,” ele diz, “keep the wrapping paper away.

For more holiday fire safety tips, Visita or the National Fire Protection Association’s Winter Holidays page.