When you work at the Red Cross for a while, you start to get “Red Cross Brain”. This is a phenomenon where you relate everything in life back to preparedness, or safety, or disaster response. Yes – I’m the geeky adult who relates everything in my life to my job.
Yesterday there was a house fire in Santa Cruz and our volunteers were called to respond. As they left, our lovely receptionist said to them, “But its the Holidays… houses aren’t supposed to burn down.”
In an awesome flourish of job-geekdom I said, “Generally speaking, the Holidays tend to be a the reason that houses burn down.”
The cause of yesterday’s house fire remains unconfirmed and may very well not have been related to the Holidays – but it bears mentioning that the Holidays are not a fire-retardant time of year. Think about it: we hang electrical wires from dry trees and put paper underneath them while we light candles, make dinner for 70, and use the fireplace for the first time since last year (see? Geek!).
During the winter holiday season the incidence and severity of home fires dramatically increases. In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, each year nearly 47,000 fires occur nationally during the holidays claiming more than 500 lives, causing more than 2,200 injuries, and costing $554 million in property damage. Many of these fires are caused by home heating sources, unattended cooking, and candles.
“Approximately 93 percent of all Red Cross disaster responses in 2007 were fire related. Many home fires can be prevented, and that’s what makes this type of disaster so devastating,” said Darlene Sparks Washington, Director for Preparedness at the American Red Cross. “Following a few quick safety tips can help save lives and prevent your family’s festivities from being disrupted by a fire.”
The Red Cross recommends the following to prevent holiday home fires:
- Keep all potential fuel sources (decorations, evergreen trees, wreaths) at least three feet from heat sources (candles, heat vents, fireplaces, portable heaters and radiators).
- Turn holiday lights off and extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to bed.
- After entertaining guests, walk around your home ensuring that candles and smoking materials are properly extinguished.
- Keep anything that can catch on fire—pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains—away from your stove top.
- Ensure that smoke alarms are installed outside of each sleeping area and on each level of your home.
- Use the test button on your smoke alarms to test them once a month and replace batteries once a year.
- Create or review your fire escape plan. Identify two escape routes from every room on your home and choose a convenient meeting place a safe distance from your home. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year with all family members.
Holiday Foliage Care
- Purchase flame retardant metallic or artificial trees and wreaths.
- If you purchase a real tree, make sure that it has fresh, green needles that aren’t easily broken. Keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water.
- Keep trees at least three feet away from heat sources, including fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.
- Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove.
- Safely dispose of trees as they become dry and needles begin to drop.
- Dispose of trees through recycling centers or community pick-up services. Dried-out trees should not be left at home or in a garage, or placed against the home or garage.
Holiday Lights and Decorations
- Make sure that any light strings or other decorations are in good condition and follow manufacturer’s instructions for their use. Do not use anything with frayed electrical cords.
- Always unplug holiday lights (including tree lights) before leaving home or going to bed.
- Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear.
- Avoid overloading electrical outlets by not linking more than three light strands.
- Use decorations that are flame-resistant or flame-retardant.
- Place decorations at least three feet away from fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.
- Remember that lit candles are fire. Always extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to bed.
- Never use lit candles to decorate a tree.
- Keep candles at least three feet away from trees, evergreens, holiday decorations, and other items that can catch on fire like clothing, papers and curtains.
- Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over easily, are made from a material that cannot burn, and are large enough to collect dripping wax.
- Place candles only where they cannot be reached or easily knocked over by children and pets.
- Consider using battery-operated “flameless” candles that are scented and have a flickering effect.
For more Holiday Safety Tips, visit www.sccredcross.org – or check out our post “Turkey Bombs and Other Thanksgiving Mishaps“
Sources: Don’t Get Burned Out During the Holidays by Jenny Brennan, American National Red Cross, 2007