Candles, lights and decorations are an essential part of the holiday season. Unfortunately, they also increase the risk of fire and injury. Each year fires occurring during the holiday season injure nearly 3,000 individuals and cause over $900 million in damage.*
To have a safe and healthy holiday season, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) recommends following these important safety tips:
- Pick out a freshly cut Christmas tree-one that is too dry can easily catch fire. Trim at least one inch from the bottom of the tree; this will increase the tree's ability to absorb water. Live trees need a lot of water so check the water level and refill often.
- Place the tree in a secure stand designed to hold the weight of the tree. Never place a Christmas tree near a heat source such as a fireplace, radiator or stove. Do not use candles to decorate a tree. And never go near a tree with an open flame such as a candle, lighter or matches.
- Dispose of the tree when it becomes dry, or when the needles begin to fall off in large quantities. Never burn old trees or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. Instead, take it to a recycling center or have it removed by a community pick-up service.
- If you buy an artificial tree, make sure that it is made of fire-resistant material.
- Do not overload electrical sockets by plugging too many cords into a single outlet. Always unplug holiday lights when no one is home or when everyone goes to sleep for the evening. Use only Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved lights. Inspect old light strands for any cracks, frayed edges or bare spots. Throw out any damaged chords.
- When decorating a tree with lights, fasten them securely to the tree and make sure that no bulbs come in contact with needles or branches. Check wires regularly. If they become warm, unplug the lights immediately.
- Never use indoor lights outside. They are not designed to withstand the elements and if they get wet, can cause an electric shock. Remove outdoor lighting as soon as the season is over. Even specially created outdoor decorations are not designed to withstand prolonged exposure to the elements.
- Do not block exit paths to doors or fire escapes with Christmas trees or other decorations.
- Never burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. This may release fire-starting embers or produce a build-up of dangerous chemical fumes in the home.
- If you entertain guests who smoke, provide large ashtrays and check for cigarette butts in upholstered furniture before going to bed. Cigarette fires are a leading cause of fire fatalities in the home.
- Do not leave the stove unattended when cooking-in the excitement of entertaining, it is easy to forget something on the stove and leave it to burn, causing a potential fire hazard.
- Place all ornaments and candles out of reach of small children and pets. Small or breakable ornaments can be easily knocked down, which can result in cuts or choking. Curious children and playful pets can topple a tree in seconds causing serious injury.
- Beware of toxic decorations. Mistletoe and holly berries may be poisonous if more than a few are swallowed. Old tinsel may contain lead so discard old tinsel if you are not sure of its composition. Fire salts (which produce a multi-colored effect when thrown on burning wood) contain heavy metals, which if swallowed may cause serious gastrointestinal problems and vomiting.
- Check candles frequently to make sure they do not burn down too far or drip hot wax. Make sure candles are placed in sturdy, non-combustible holders away from decorations and other combustible materials.
- Clean and trim candlewicks to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch before lighting. Long or crooked wicks cause uneven burning and dripping. Candles should be placed at least three inches apart so they do not melt onto one another. Keep candles free of wick trimmings, matches or any flammable material that might ignite.
- Never leave candles burning unattended. Remember to snuff out all candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
Give your family the priceless gift of safety this holiday season. Prepare for the New Year by getting into good safety habits and teaching family members what to do in a fire or other emergency. Print a list of emergency phone numbers such as the poison control center, and police and fire departments and place them near the telephones in your home. Make sure that smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are in good, working condition.
You may also want to consider installing a sophisticated alarm system that, in the event of an emergency, rings at an outside service to contact the fire, police or local emergency medical service.
For more information on making your home safer, contact the United States Fire Administration at or the Candle Fire Safety Association.
For more information on insurance and safety, visit the I.I.I. Web site.
*U.S. Fire Administration figures
The I.I.I. is a nonprofit, communications organization supported by the insurance industry.