While it may seem Scrooge-like to think about fire hazards during the holidays, many of the activities people engage in - cooking, entertaining, and decorating - all present increased fire risks. According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), candles and Christmas trees play a role in these incidents.
Fortunately, the vast majority of holiday fires are preventable, notes Lorraine Carli, NFPA's vice president of communications.
"Certainly, no one needs to abandon their holiday traditions and activities," says Carli. "But by understanding where potential hazards exist, and making some minor adjustments, people can greatly increase their homes' and loved ones' safety, and enjoy the season as planned."
NFPA offers the following information and advice to ensure a festive and safe holiday season:
Cooking equipment fires are the leading cause of U.S. home fires and fire injuries, and the third leading cause of home fire deaths. In 2008, relative to an average day, the number of home cooking equipment fires was 55 percent higher on Christmas Eve and 68 percent higher on Christmas Day.
*Stay in the kitchen while you're frying, grilling or broiling food.
*Most cooking fires involve the stovetop. Keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it's for a short period of time.
*If you're simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you're cooking.
*For homes with children, create a "kid-free zone" of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.
U.S. fire departments annually respond to roughly 260 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees. One third of them are caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source that's too close to the tree.
*If you have an artificial tree, be sure it's labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
*If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don't fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 1-2" from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
*Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.
*Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
*Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
*Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. Read the manufacturer's instructions for the number of LED strands to connect.
*Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the room or going to bed.
*After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
*Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
December is the peak month for home candle fires, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day representing two of the five top days for associated fires. NFPA statistics show that more than half of all candle fires start when placing them too close to things that can burn.
*Consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12" away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.
*Use candle holders that are sturdy, won't tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces.
*Avoid using candles in the bedroom where two of five U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep.
*Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
For additional resources and information about holiday fire safety, including audio clips, videos and safety sheets, visit NFPA's website at http://www.nfpa.org/holiday.