Celebrate the holiday season…safely

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How to reduce your risk of residential fires

By East Tennessee Children’s Hospital


During the winter, simple actions like turning on the heat, decorating for the holidays and cooking large meals severely increase the risk of fires and fire-related injuries and death. Thirty percent of all fires occur in the winter, causing more than 8,000 injuries and 1,000 deaths. Because of ice, snow and hazardous conditions, firefighting is far more difficult in the winter. Through taking these safety measures recommended by East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, families will be able to reduce the risk of fire in their homes during the holiday season.

Holiday Decorations

  • Do not place natural Christmas trees close to a heat source, such as a fireplace or vent. Dry trees ignite very easily, so the tree should be watered frequently. Needles should be green and hard to pull off the branches.Do not leave up a natural tree for more than two weeks. When the tree becomes dry, dispose of it by taking it to a recycling center.
  • Inspect holiday lights for frayed wires, broken sockets or excessive wear. Electrical sockets should have no more than three light strands and should not be warm to the touch.
  • Never leave tree lights on unattended.
  • Avoid the use of lit candles anywhere in your home.
  • Make sure holiday decorations do not block exits.



  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • Remember to turn off space heaters when leaving a room or going to bed.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Never hang items to dry above a space heater.
  • Inspect and clean your chimney annually.
  • Burn only clean and dry hard wood in a wood stove or fireplace. Never burn plastics, garbage or wood that has been treated with a preservative, paint or other chemicals.


“Because of ice, snow and hazardous conditions, firefighting is far more difficult in the winter.”



  • Never leave pots on the stove unattended. If using the oven, set a timer as a reminder.
  • Only cook when alert and not under the influence of alcohol or medicine.
  • Remove anything flammable, such as potholders, food packaging or wooden utensils, from the stovetop.
  • Keep sleeves rolled up and hair pulled back. Clothes or jewelry should not be loose or dangling.
  • Create a “kid-free” zone three feet around cooking areas and keep hot foods and liquids away from counter edges. Use the backburners when children are present.
  • Supervise children closely when using the kitchen.

Though these tips will reduce the risk of residential fires, make sure to have an escape plan (see the article, Get out to be safe) that involves two exits from every room and a meeting place a safe distance away from the home. Families should practice this plan and know what to do in case of a fire. Additionally, check the batteries on all smoke alarms and replace any that are more than 10 years old.


For more information about fire safety during the holidays, visit the U.S. Fire Administration (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday-seasonal/winter.shtm) or the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital website (http://www.etch.org).

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