CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — With Christmas being a few weeks away, it's easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and forget about holiday precautions, like fire safety.
Christmas trees and other holiday decorations are an annual tradition for many, but misuse and neglect can lead to house fires during the holiday season.
The Corpus Christi Fire Department says the holiday season is its busiest time of year for structure fires.
In November, December, and January the Corpus Christi Fire Department responds to 10 percent more house fire calls than any other time of the year.
“This time of year, you get a lot of cooking incidents, you know, during the holidays people are doing more cooking, baking, and things like that. It doesn’t take less than a minute to step away from your cooking to go answer the door, go answer the telephone, and forget that you had something on the stove and then a fire starts,” said Corpus Christi Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Doug Matthijetz.
The best thing you can do is have a fire extinguisher close by in your home.
“Somewhere under the kitchen sink or somewhere it is quickly accessible that a regular dry fire extinguisher can put the fire out real quick,” said Matthijetz.
Structure fires are very common during the holiday season. In fact, two out of every five fires this time of year start because of decorations.
“It is real important to make sure you have working lights that are not shorted out. If they are bad, change them out, don’t leave frayed cords, overloaded extension cords, those can lead to fires,” said Matthijetz.
It doesn't matter if your Christmas tree is expensive, cheap, real, fake, tall or small, fire officials say all trees should be a fire concern. Christmas trees start more than 200 house fires each year.
“As far as a real tree, make sure you keep them watered. If the limbs and branches and everything starts falling off, then the tree is too dry, and it can cause a fire. You might have the lights that might heat up a little too much; it could potentially start a fire,” said Matthijetz.
Also keep in mind that candle fires peak in December. Never leave them burning unattended, and make sure you have smoke detectors in your home, test them often and keep the batteries fresh.
“It is really important to have smoke detectors working throughout the house, and change the batteries," Matthijetz said. "We always have a saying in the fire service; change your clock, change your batteries. So hopefully in the beginning of November everybody changed out their batteries in their smoke detectors and have good working smoke alarms."
If you’re decorating outdoors, make sure your lights and extension cords are insulated and specifically made for outdoor use. Indoor lights can become hazardous when exposed to wet conditions.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2018 alone, an estimated 1,318,500 fires resulted in 3,655 civilian deaths, 15,200 injuries and an estimated $25.6 billion in direct property loss.
Safety tips to avoid fires during the holiday season:
- Christmas trees: Make sure the needles on live trees are green and hard to pull back from the branches. The tree should regularly receive plenty of water.
- Cooking calamities:Unattended cookies is one of the top causes of house fires. Keep an all-purpose or Class ABC rated fire extinguisher on hand in case a kitchen fire breaks out.
- Space heaters: Avoid setting up a space heater close to curtains, furniture or holiday decorations. Keep at least three feet of space around space heaters and set it up on the floor.
- Children playing with fire: Do not leave children unsupervised with ignition materials like matches or lighters.
- Burn wood in the fireplace: Do not burn trash, cardboard boxes or Christmas trees in the fireplace. The items burn unevenly and can cause a dangerous flash fire.
- Dirty chimney: Have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually to prevent creosote building. Most chimney fires are caused by creosote buildup due to burning wood.
- Dirty fireplace: Be sure to put embers in a mental container and set them outside to cool for 24 hours before disposal when cleaning the fireplace.
- Caution with candles:Ensure that candles are in stable holders and placed where they cannot be knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.
- Holiday lights: Inspect holiday lights annually for frayed wires, bare spots or broken sockets before putting them up. Turn off holiday lights before leaving the house or going to bed.
- Electrical outlets: Don’t overload outlets with too many lights or decorations.
- Counterfeit electronics:Look for CSA or UL certification marks that indicate the product has been tested and meets the product safety standards.