Preventing Christmas, Yule Log, and Other Winter Holiday Fires

The holidays are a time of family, good food, festivities — and home fires. An average of 160 Christmas tree-related fires and millions in direct property damage have occurred at this time between 2015 and 2019, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Filing an insurance claim to recover losses and damages from Christmas and candle fires is the last thing you want to do on your holiday break, so it's important to remember that it can happen to you if you don't take some important precautions.

An average of 160 Christmas tree-related fires and millions in direct property damage happen during the holidays.

Fortunately, most holiday fires are preventable. In this guide, we'll show you how to stay warm, festive and safe from fires. And if something does catch fire, you'll know what to do.

Tips To Prevent Holiday Fires

Help preserve the holiday cheer and festivities with the following Christmas fire safety tips:

  • Keep Your Christmas Tree Watered

  • Mind Your Electrical Outlets and Extension Cords

  • Contain Your Yule Logs and Fireplaces

  • Safely Burn Your Candles, Menorah or Kinara

  • Practice Fire Prevention in the Kitchen

Keep Your Christmas Tree Watered

A live Christmas tree becomes a more dangerous fire hazard when it's dry and brittle. By watering your tree regularly, you can help Christmas tree fires from spreading too quickly if it does ignite. Also, a properly maintained tree 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.

Mind Your Electrical Outlets and Extension Cords

Be mindful of the type of electrical outlets and extension cords you use — some are intended for indoor or outdoor use. Outdoor sockets should be plugged into circuits protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs), which helps block electric power from flowing directly to the earth. 

If your extension cord has cracked or broken sockets, frayed or bare wires, or if anything is loose, discard and replace it — that goes for any wiring on your lighting and electrical decorations, too. Be cautious about overloading electrical outlets. Hot plugs or fuses that blow often indicate there are signs of a fire hazard.

Contain Your Yule Logs and Fireplaces

To prevent a Yule log fire, keep all flammable items at least three feet away from the fireplace — a real Christmas tree should be even further. 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.

Safely Burn Your Candles, Menorah or Kinara

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. 

You should be present in the room while the candle is burning and extinguish it 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.

Practice Fire Prevention in the Kitchen

While 19% of home decoration fires involve cooking equipment, according to the NFPA, most of these fires are preventable. 

To protect your kitchen (and food) from burning to a crisp:

  • 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.

  • Clean up grease spills as soon as they happen.

  • Stay in the kitchen when there are open flames or heat sources are active.

  • If something catches fire, cover the pot or pan with a lid to contain the fire. 

  • When finished cooking, turn off all burners and remove cooking equipment from the stovetop.

  • Make sure your oven is clear of old food particles that may catch fire.

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What To Do When There's a Holiday Fire

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 and your family should leave the structure and wait outside for help to arrive.

Filing a Claim

Fire damage is a covered peril under standard homeowners insurance. As soon as the situation is safe, contact your insurance carrier to file a claim. You'll be asked to document the fire damage and to list anything that needs to be replaced. If possible, compile any receipts that show proof of value.

You'll also want to verify how extensive your coverage is for fire damage. Depending on your policy, you may have policy protections, such as:

  • Personal property coverage: Pays to replace your damaged personal belongings (e.g., furniture and clothing).

  • Loss of use coverage: Pays for living expenses, including hotel bills and meals, if your home is uninhabitable after the fire.

  • Other structures coverage: Covers fire damages to detached structures (e.g., sheds, fences, guest houses, unattached garages).

  • 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).

Dry Christmas trees burn more quickly than well-watered trees.

Winter Holiday Fire Facts & FAQs

Is fire damage included in home insurance?

Yes, fire damage is covered under standard homeowners insurance and is a named peril under an HO-2 policy and HO-3 open perils policy.

How common are Christmas tree fires?

U.S. fire departments responded to 160 home fires that started with Christmas trees, on average, between 2015 and 2019, according to the NFPA.

What causes most Christmas tree fires?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology showed that dry trees burned more quickly than well-watered trees. Keeping your tree properly watered can prevent it from becoming dry and brittle.

Which holiday has the most fires?

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 mostly caused by heating sources, like wood stoves and fireplaces.

Let SmartFinancial Help You Stay Protected During the Holidays and All Year-Round

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. 

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.

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