Christmas Holiday Fire Safety

We're serious about fire safety all year long - but each year the Christmas season brings unique fire hazards. Are you doing all you can to keep your holidays safe? A decorated Christmas tree is a beautiful part of the holiday season. More than 33 million American homes use a tree as part of their annual festivities. We urge you to keep the tree watered! This not only creates a fragrant indoor winter wonderland, but helps reduce the chances of a live tree igniting. Not worried?

Christmas Tree Hazards

When fire touches a dry tree. within three seconds of ignition, a dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze. At five seconds, fire extends up the tree and black smoke with searing gases streaks across the ceiling. Fresh air near the floor feeds the fire. Furnishings and carpet ignite prior to any flame contact. Within 40 seconds "flash over" occurs -- that's when an entire room erupts into flames, oxygen is depleted and dense, deadly toxic smoke engulfs the scene. At this point persons within the fire structure will already have perished or will be in great peril. Even if the Fire Dept. were called at the time of ignition, we cannot arrive on the scene quickly enough to prevent grave loss of life and property.

Christmas trees account for 400 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 80 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage. Typically shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Dry and neglected trees are the primary problem. Wet trees are much safer. In testing the NIST fire safety engineers hand cut a green Scotch pine, cut an additional two inches cut from the trunk's bottom, and placed the tree in a stand with at least a 7.6 liter water capacity. The Scotch pine's water was maintained on a daily basis. A single match could not ignite the tree. A second attempt in which an electric current ignited an entire matchbook failed to fire the tree. Finally they applied an open flame to the tree using a propane torch. The branches ignited briefly, but self-extinguished when the researchers removed the torch from the branches.

Other Decorations and Lighting

Whenever possible, choose holiday decorations made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials. Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials, never use candles to decorate Christmas trees , and never leave burning candles unattended. Use lights and electrical decorations bearing the name of an independent testing lab, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance. Inspect new and previously used light strings before use each season and replace damaged items. Always unplug lights to replace bulbs or fuses. Do not overload extension cords. Never mount lighting in any way that can damage the cord's wire insulation. Keep children and pets away from light strings and electrical decorations and turn off all light strings and decorations before leaving the house or going to bed. Have functioning smoke detectors in your home.

Holiday Entertaining

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. When cooking for holidays keep a watchful eye on items in the oven or on the range. Provide necessary ashtrays for smoking guests - ashtrays should be large, deep and emptied. Since cigarette butts can smolder in the trash and cause a fire, be sure to completely douse cigarette butts with water before discarding, or better yet, flush them down the toilet. After parties always check on, between and under upholstery and cushions and inside trash cans for cigarette butts that may be smoldering. Keep matches and lighters out of sight and reach of children (preferably in a locked cabinet). When smokers visit your home, ask them to keep their smoking materials with them so young children do not touch them.

Happy Holidays!

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