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Holiday season: Spark joy, not a fire

The holiday season brings increased potential for residential fires, from trees and lights to candles and fireplaces. These simple tips can help with holiday fire prevention to keep your home and family safe.


Fire safety during the holidays is vital, as there are plenty of ways for a fire to start, from cooking mishaps to maintenance issues with Christmas trees.

Almost half of those tree fires are related to lighting or electrical issues, and nearly one in five is sparked by decorative lights. Another one in five fires is started because a heat source was too close to the tree — such as a candle, radiator, space heater or fireplace.

However, a tree will never spontaneously combust, so preventing the cause of a fire is key. And not everyone celebrates Christmas or has a tree in their home — so these simple precautions will ensure everyone stays safe and prevents fires, no matter what their traditions.

Here are some tips to avoid a fire in your home this holiday season:

Get the freshest Christmas trees

When buying a real tree, you probably want the freshest-looking one, but aside from aesthetics, there are practical reasons for this choice. But aside from aesthetics, there are practical reasons to choose a vibrant green tree: brownish needles mean it is dry and, therefore, more flammable.

Most trees on a lot will be fresh, but test the needles before buying a tree to make sure it is up to holiday fire safety standards. Fresh pine needles will bend (not break), while fresh fir needles should snap when folded, according to the Puget Sound Christmas Tree Association. And check the bottom of the trunk; if it’s sticky with resin, it means the tree is fresh

Placement is key

Another one of the holiday fire safety tips to remember is that after bringing your tree home, set it up at least three feet away from heat sources and water it regularly. The reservoir at the base of the tree should always have water in it, which will keep the base of the tree moist.

But don’t forget about it. Once the presents have been opened and the festivities are over, it can be easy to neglect the tree — but you should continue to water it until it’s removed.

Fake trees are still a real threat

While you don’t have to worry about an artificial tree drying out, it still poses a fire hazard. Just because a tree is labelled “fire retardant” doesn’t mean it can’t catch fire, it just means it will burn more slowly.

But, like a real tree, it won’t spontaneously combust; it needs a spark. If you’re buying an artificial tree, check that the product is approved by a nationally recognized testing lab such as ULC (Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada) or CSA (Canadian Standards Association). These certifications show the product has been evaluated and certified for fire and shock hazards for holiday fire prevention.

More details: UL (Underwriters’ Laboratories) has done extensive research on the fire risks posed by pre-lit artificial trees and, subsequently, created requirements for certification (UL 2358 and UL 588) that help consumers choose safer products.

Shine a light on certifications

Whether you’re buying Hanukkah lights, a pre-lit artificial tree, or hanging string lights around the house, those lights should be ULC- or CSA-certified..

In terms of holiday fire safety, it’s also important to buy the right lights for the right location. Some are certified for indoor use (ideal for bannisters, trim and around your tree), while others are certified for outdoor use (which can withstand the elements).

Don’t skip the inspection

Before putting your lights up, performing a maintenance check for faulty lights that could cause a fire is critical to holiday fire prevention. Check your string lights for loose connections, broken bulbs or fraying wires. If there’s any damage, fix or replace the lights. For those who put lights on their house, you may also consider hiring a professional to install your exterior lights.

And while Clark Griswold did it with amazing results (eventually), don’t overload your electrical outlets, daisy-chain extension cords or use indoor extension cords with your exterior lights. All of these can cause overheating and spark a fire.

Keep an eye on candles

One of the most important holiday fire safety tips is to avoid burning candles near combustible materials, such as wrapping paper or presents, holiday decorations or a tree skirt. You can also invest in flickering LED candles, or for those celebrating  Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, switch to electric menorahs and kinaras.

Fireplace safety

A fireplace can set a festive mood, but for the sake of holiday fire prevention, always use a screen so embers don’t drift  onto the floor or carpet. You should also never burn wrapping paper in the fireplace as the ink used on gift wrap could produce toxic fumes. That wrapping paper also burns quickly and intensely, which could result in a flash fire.

Condo safety

Condos also typically have rules around Christmas trees for holiday fire prevention. Many condos prohibit hanging wreaths or other festive decorations on your door or in the hallway outside your unit. Your building manager isn’t being a Scrooge — rather, these items could be in violation of the provincial fire code. In the event of a fire in your building, items like this would fan the flames.

Condos also typically have rules around Christmas trees. Live trees may be banned, as dragging trees down hallways and through common areas can spread dried-out needles, which is a fire hazard. But if real trees are allowed in the building, there are likely rules around proper disposal. It’s important to stick to these rules — as trees will dry out over the holidays and become more of a fire hazard to your unit, the building and the safety of all residents.

Eat, drink, be merry and stay safe

Over the holidays, you may be entertaining guests, and it’s easy to get distracted and grow lax with holiday fire safety prevention. While cooking, stay in the kitchen so you don’t lose track of time when visiting with guests, or set a reliable and loud alarm that everyone will hear. It’s one thing to burn the turkey — it’s another to burn down the house.

By staying aware and practicing fire safety during the holidays, you can protect your home, family, guests, pets, and neighbors so everyone can have a safe and happy holiday season. You’ll protect your home, family, guests, pets and neighbours — so everyone can have a safe and happy holiday season.

During the holidays, it’s important that your home is protected, and aside from following these fire safety tips for the holiday season, speak with your insurance broker to review the details of your policy and update it as necessary. Happy holidays!


Read next: Are condo fires on the rise? How you can prevent them


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