December 14, 2010

State fire marshal urges Missourians to think of fire safety during the holidays

Residential fires tend to increase around the holidays; Christmas tree fires are just one potential danger

State Fire Marshal Randy Cole reminds Missourians to consider fire safety as they gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays. Across the country each year, Christmas tree fires lead to about 200 home fires and injure dozens of people, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

"This is the time of year when residential fires generally increase across the U.S.," said Fire Marshal Cole. "Because of colder temperatures, people are heating their homes and spending more time indoors. In addition, there are holiday celebrations and decorations — including candles and Christmas trees — and an increase in cooking for family gatherings. All these are factors in the increase in fires."   

The U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology has produced a video that dramatically shows the fire danger a dry natural Christmas tree creates. Once ignited, a dry Fraser fir bursts into flames in seven seconds, and is consumed by fire in slightly more than a minute. While a well-watered Fraser fir briefly ignites, the flame soon dies out — reducing the hazard. The video of the two trees, side-by-side, provides a stunning lesson about why keeping a Christmas tree moist can be a matter of life-and-death importance. The video can be viewed at

Candles are another potential fire hazard. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, across the country, December is the peak time of year for home candle fires; the top four days for candle fires are around Christmas and New Year's, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In December, 13 percent of home candle fires begin with decorations, compared to 4 percent the rest of the year. According to the U.S.F.A., there are an estimated 17,400 home candle fires each year, killing about 180 people.

A U.S.F.A. report released this year found that an estimated 108,000 winter residential building fires occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of 945 deaths and 3,825 injuries. Cooking is the leading cause of winter residential building fires at 36 percent, followed by heating at 23 percent. 

The U.S.F.A. recommends these precautions around the holidays:

·      Don't use real candles as part of decorations and remember to always exercise basic safety when using candles throughout the home.

·      Never leave a lighted Christmas tree or other decorative lighting display unattended.  Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections and broken sockets. Do not overload extension cords or outlets and do not place an electrical cord under a rug.

·      Natural cut Christmas trees always involve some risk of fire. To minimize the risk, get a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times. Do not put the tree within three feet of a fireplace, space heater, radiator or heat vent.

·      Decorate with children in mind. Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them. Trim protruding branches at or below a child's eye level and keep lights out of reach.

·      Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood, or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.

·      Declare the kitchen off limits to children and those adults not assisting with food preparation. A crowded kitchen can increase the danger of spills and burns.

·      Be prepared to deal with cooking fires. Remember to never put water on a grease fire.

Fire Marshal Cole reminds everyone to check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as fire extinguishers, to make sure they are working properly and to review home escape plans with all family members. He added that overnight guests should also be educated on home escape plans.  

"Remembering to think of fire safety is one the best gifts you can give your family and the people you entertain this holiday season," said Cole. "It only takes a few minutes and is important now because winter is the most dangerous season for injuries and deaths due to fire."


For more information, call 573-751-5432 or e-mail