Every holiday season, municipal fire departments across the country respond to an average of 200 fires that start with a Christmas tree. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 30 percent of all home fires and 38 percent of home fire deaths occur during the months of December, January and February.
While holiday celebrations and decorations in a city can bring together communities, too often fires from holiday candles, Christmas trees and overloaded electrical connections from decorative lighting can also result in tragic loss of life and property, which could devastate a community.
We are all familiar with Santa riding through our neighborhoods on top of the fire truck tossing out candy to the children during the holiday season, but Santa and the fire truck he is riding should also remind us that in order to keep our communities, homes and firefighters safe, we need to do more to prevent holiday fires.
Fortunately, many of the causes of holiday fires can easily be prevented by increasing awareness of the dangers of holiday hazards.
Top ten facts about home holiday fires (Source: NFPA)
- The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve.
- Between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of four deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually.
- On average, one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires.
- Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 43 percent of home Christmas tree fires.
- In one-quarter (27 percent) of the Christmas tree fires and in 80 percent of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
- More than one-fifth (22 percent) of Christmas tree fires were intentional.
- 42 percent of reported home Christmas tree fires occurred in December and 33 percent were reported in January.
- Two of every five (40 percent) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.
- A heat source too close to the tree causes one in every four Christmas tree fires.
- Candles start two out of five home decoration structure fires.
Click here to see a video produced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that shows just how quickly a dried out Christmas tree fire burns, with flashover occurring in less than one minute, as compared to a well-watered tree, which burns at a much slower rate.
Tips to reduce fire risk
Local officials can help increase awareness about holiday fires in their communities by sharing the free content from the USFA Holiday fire safety toolkit on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.
Find more holiday, Christmas tree, and fire safety information on the USFA Holiday Safety page.
About the Author: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the program director of public safety and crime prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.