Preventing Christmas, Yule Log, and Other Winter Holiday Fires
The holidays are a time of family, good food, festivities — and home fires. Taking preventative measures during the holidays with fires, candles, menorahs, Christmas trees as well as other flammable objects may lessen the chances of a fire significantly, but a blaze can occur when you least expect it.
In this guide, we'll show you how to stay warm, festive and safe from fires. And if something does ignite, you'll know what to do.
Are Christmas Fires Common?
Home fires are most likely to occur during winter holidays, with December and January being the peak months according to the American Red Cross. Home fires typically start in the kitchen and are caused mostly by heating sources, like wood stoves and fireplaces.
How Many House Fires Are Caused by Christmas Trees?
An average of 160 Christmas tree-related fires and millions in direct property damage have occurred during the holidays between 2015 and 2019, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
What Are the Most Common Fire Hazards on Christmas?
According to the NFPA, underwatered Christmas trees, holiday decorations, candles and holiday cooking were the most common fire hazards on Christmas day. Be especially careful when decorating your kitchen. Cooking equipment was involved in 19% of home decoration fires, usually caused when decor is left on or adorned too close to cooking equipment.
Christmas Fire Safety Tips
Follow these holiday fire safety tips to prevent or minimize the spread of fire damages.
1. Water Your Live Christmas Tree Daily
The National Institute of Standards and Technology showed that dry and brittle trees burned more quickly than well-watered trees. Watering your tree regularly can help prevent Christmas tree fires from spreading too quickly if it does ignite. Also, regular watering helps prevent needles from falling from branches and into a nearby electrical or fire source, like a space heater.
Quick tip: Needles that pull easily from the tree and break when bent between your fingers are signs that your Christmas tree needs watering.
2. Consider a Fire-Resistant Artificial Christmas Tree
If you’re shopping for a fake tree, consider investing in one with fire-retardant properties since you can reuse it annually. The product box label should indicate if an artificial tree is fire-resistant. However, do not confuse fire-resistant with fireproof. You should still position your tree at least three feet away from a fire source and practice the upcoming safety tips.
3. Practice Christmas Light Safety
The following Christmas life safety tips can help prevent fires and electric shocks this holiday season:
- Don’t use electric lights on a metal tree.
- Don’t leave Christmas lights on overnight or when the house is empty.
- Use plastic holders instead of staples and nails to hang lights.
- Plug Christmas lights into extension cords that are in good shape.
- Plug outdoor lights into GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets.
- Don’t hang lights through windows or doors, which can pinch the wire and cause fraying.
- Keep lights and outlets away from fire and water sources.
4. Place Your Tree Away From Heat Sources
Display your Christmas tree at least three feet away from your fireplace or other fire source. Pines on live trees can fall off and ignite if they’re too close, especially if they’re dry and brittle. Even artificial trees can melt or ignite if they’re displayed too close to an open flame or space heater.
5. Don’t Overload Powerstrips
Overloading a powerstrip can melt the plastic and cause electrical fires. To avoid this issue, space your electrical decor throughout your home. Be on the lookout for cracked or broken sockets and frayed or bare wires, as well. Worn out power strips should always be replaced.
Avoid plugging space heaters into power strips because it can pose a serious fire risk. Otherwise, the power strip may overheat because it can’t supply the energy needed to power a space heater. Instead, plug your space heaters into a wall outlet.
6. Be Cautious When Using Candles
You should always burn candles for your menorah, kinara or another cultural activity, on a non-flammable surface to catch melting candle wax. Also, keep its surroundings clear of flammable items.
Always extinguish candles before you leave the room for an extended period. A 2020 national American Red Cross survey showed that nearly 33% of people have left the room or fallen asleep while burning candles.
7. Confirm Your Fire Alarms Are Installed and Working Properly
Fire alarms or smoke detectors can quickly alert you of a dangerous fire, prompting you to evacuate your home and potentially extinguish it if you feel it’s safe to do so.
Your smoke detector should have a test button you can press. If the alarm produces no sound or it’s faint, you should either replace your batteries or install a new alarm. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years or earlier.
8. Check That Your Fireplace Is Ready for Use
As part of your annual fall home maintenance checklist, we recommend scheduling for a professional to inspect your fireplace for structural integrity, signs of damage or wear and tear and soot buildup that could affect performance. If you notice rust, discoloration, vegetation growth or brick deterioration in your fireplace or on your chimney, your fireplace may be unsafe to use.
To prevent a Yule log fire, keep all flammable items at least three feet away from the fireplace. A fire screen should always be in place to contain embers and burning logs and you should extinguish the fire completely before heading to bed. Also, be sure that you burn only seasoned logs — other items, like wrapping paper, could cause flash fires.
9. Avoid Using Your Oven for Storage
The innocent mistake of forgetting to remove the contents of your oven before preheating it is far too easy to make — guilty as charged. Ideally, you should avoid storing anything in your oven. If you still choose to do so, be thorough in clearing it before baking.
Other stovetop and oven safety tips worth following include:
- Keep flammable items away from the stove and oven.
- If you're baking a pre-cooked meal, remove all flammable packaging before popping it into the oven.
- Make sure your oven is clear of old food particles that may ignite.
- When finished cooking, turn off all burners and remove cooking equipment from the stovetop.
10. Keep Fire Extinguishers on Hand
Every homeowner should understand how to operate, store and maintain a fire extinguisher, especially if their area was assigned a poor fire protection class. Ideally, you should have a clearly visible fire extinguisher in every area with a high fire risk, such as in the kitchen, garage, around your HVAC unit and by your fireplace.
Homeowners should check that the pressure gauge shows the extinguisher is in the green “charged” zone. If the pressure is overcharged or undercharged, you should contact a fire extinguisher servicing company to perform routine maintenance. Otherwise, your fire extinguisher may fail when you need it most.
11. Have a Plan for You, Your Family And Guests
Whether it's a Christmas tree fire or kitchen fire, call 911 immediately. Even if you feel you can extinguish the fire on your own, you'll want the fire department en route to your location just in case. If you're unable to extinguish the fire hazard on your own, you, your family and your guests should leave the structure and wait outside for help to arrive.
What Type of Insurance Covers You in the Event of a Christmas Fire?
Fire damage is a covered peril under standard homeowners insurance. Below are the types of a coverage a standard policy will provide after a fire accident:
- Dwelling coverage: Pays for fire damages to your home’s structure (e.g., wall, roof).
- Other structures coverage: Covers fire damages to detached structures (e.g., sheds, fences, guest houses, unattached garages).
- Personal property coverage: Pays to replace your damaged personal belongings (e.g., furniture and clothing).
- Personal liability coverage: Pays for legal fees from lawsuits related to the fire in your home (e.g., neighbor sues you after the fire expands to their home).
- Loss of use coverage: Pays for living expenses, including hotel bills and meals, if your home is uninhabitable after the fire.
As soon as the situation is safe, contact your insurance carrier to file a claim and get reimbursed for your losses (up to your policy limits). You'll need to submit documentation of the fire damages, which can include pictures of and a list of damaged property and their value.
Get Personalized Home Insurance Quotes Here
Having the right homeowners insurance policy can help you repair or replace your home and possessions if a fire gets out of hand. To find the best price on a policy, you'll need to compare coverages and rates. SmartFinancial's free side-by-side comparisons of quotes from 200+ insurance partners can help you find a policy at the right price. Just enter your zip code below and answer some questions to get started on free quotes.
- American Red Cross. “Fire FAQs.” Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- National Fire Protection Association. “Winter Holiday Fire Facts.” Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- National Institute of Standards and Technology. “Christmas Tree Fire: Watered Tree vs. Dry Tree.” Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- American Red Cross. “Candle Fires Peak in December; Nearly One-Third of Us Have Left Burning Candles Unattended.” Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- Allstate. “How To Test Your Smoke Detectors and Fire Alarms.” Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.
- US Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Christmas Tree Fire Turns Devastating and Deadly Within Seconds.” Accessed Nov. 2, 2022.