December 16, 2011

State fire marshal advises Missourians to remember fire safety during the holidays

Holiday decorations, candles, Christmas trees and cooking all increase risk for residential fires

State Fire Marshal Randy Cole urges Missourians to remember fire safety as they gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays. Each year across the U.S., fire departments respond to an average of 240 residential fires caused by Christmas trees alone, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

"Around the country, residential fires generally increase in December," said Fire Marshal Cole. "As temperatures drop, people are heating their homes and spending more time indoors. In addition, the holiday season means decorations, celebrations and an increase in indoor cooking, all of which increase the potential for a fire."

Candles are another potential fire hazard that many incorporate into their holiday decorations. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, across the nation, candles are responsible for more than 15,000 residential fires a year, causing 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries, and more than $500 million in property damage. The U.S.F.A. adds that December is the peak month for home candle fires, with 24 percent of all candle fires occurring in December or January. According to the U.S.F.A, more than half of these fires are a result of a candle being placed too close to flammable holiday decorations, such as Christmas trees.

Fire Marshal Cole also encourages families to practice safety in the kitchen as they cook for the holidays. According to the National Fire Protection Association, two of every five reported home fires start in the kitchen, more than any other room in the home. The U.S.F.A. adds that almost half of residential fires in the U.S. in 2009 were caused by cooking.

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, make sure the tree you choose is fresh 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 potential 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 recommends that overnight guests should also be educated on home escape plans.  

"Winter is the most dangerous season for injuries and deaths due to fire," said Cole. "As the holidays approach, the best way to protect your home and your loved ones is to take just a few minutes to discuss fire safety and home escape plans."

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


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