Tis' the season for house fires, mostly caused by Christmas trees and other flammable holiday decorations. As beautiful as Christmas trees are, it’s important to remember they are potential fire hazards.

What are some key holiday house fire statistics?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, just over 51% of home decoration fires in December are started by candles compared to about a third of fires from January through November.

There has been an uptick in New Jersey house fires due to house decoration fires as well, but those numbers have not been generated yet, said Richard Mikutsky, state fire marshal and director of the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety.

Between 2014 and 2018, about 770 house fires began with decorations, and that does not include Christmas trees, he said.

More than 2 out of 5 decoration fires occurred because they were placed in bad positions in the home, whether it was too close to a candle, or near a heat source like a fireplace.

Between 2016 and 2020, Christmas tree fires were more common between 3 p.m. and midnight, accounting for one-half of associated fires. Another 26 percent of fires occurred between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

What are some ways to prevent Christmas tree fires?

First, and foremost, and not just during the Christmas season, but all year long, have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the home, Mikutsky said.

These alarms should be installed in every bedroom and on any level of the home. A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, he said. So, by having these working devices installed, they are early warning devices, which have been proven to save lives.

When buying a live Christmas tree, check for freshness. Make sure the needles are not falling off. Once a tree stops drinking water, get rid of it, Mikutsky said. It’s drying out and dying, which, in turn, makes it a fire hazard.

As far as lights on the tree, he suggested using lights that produce low heat such as miniature and LED lights. They will also help reduce the quick drying of the tree.

Make sure the lights are used specifically for indoors or outdoors. Most lights are specifically made for either, not for both, thus adding to your safety, he said.

The placement of the tree is also very important. Keep it away from heat sources. Never install a tree where it can block egress from a room or the home. You want to be able to have a clear exit if needed in an emergency.

What about other holiday fire hazards?

Besides Christmas trees, other decorations around the house can cause a spark, which can turn into an inferno.

Don’t overload the electrical circuit by connecting too many strands of lights together, Mikutsky said.

“When you purchase lights, each box should have a manufacturer’s instructions for the number of lights that you can string together safely,” he said. For LED lights, you can string more light strands together than you can for conventional lights and larger bulbs.

Don’t overload extension cords. The cords should be heavy-duty, not light, flimsy ones.
Place the cords along the wall to prevent tripping hazards.

“Never run them underneath the rugs or carpets where they can be walked on because as they’re walked on, they can become brittle and they can become cracked and frayed, which can start a fire,” Mikutsky said.

As far as candles, make sure they are blown out before leaving the house or going to bed.

Try to switch from real candles to battery-operated flameless ones. They are much safer, he added.

If you do use real candles, be sure to put them in stable, sturdy holders to prevent tip-overs.

Mikutsky said that by keeping these simple tips in mind, everyone should be able to enjoy a happy and safe holiday season.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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