Firefighters urge caution: Holidays bring increased risk of house fires |

Firefighters urge caution: Holidays bring increased risk of house fires

Sebastian Foltz
The holiday season brings with it an increased risk of house fires. Cooking, Christmas tree and home decorations are typically leading causes.
Sebastian Foltz / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The winter season brings together family and friends for big meals, traditions and holiday cheer. But fire departments across the country want to remind the public that it’s their busiest time of year, too. According to the National Fire Protection Association — an organization that monitors fire statistics nationwide — Thanksgiving is the most likely day for a house-fire caused by cooking. In 2013 cooking fires accounted for 1,550 incidents nationwide on Thanksgiving Day. That’s 230 percent above the country’s daily average. While Thanksgiving may be behind us, Christmas and Christmas Eve typically also see a spike, coming in second and third behind Thanksgiving.

“Cooking fires are always a hazard,” South Lake Tahoe Fire Department Chief Jeff Meston said. “Now is a really good time to talk about fire safety.”

Explaining the spike in cooking fires during the holidays in a press release, CAL FIRE director Ken Pimlott said, “During the holidays we tend to have multiple items cooking on the stove while we are visiting with family and friends. It’s critical to not get distracted.”

And while unattended cooking continues to be a concern, Christmas tree and holiday decoration fires also get added to the mix as we approach December.

On average, around 1,070 home fires are caused by either holiday decorations or Christmas trees burning, based on fire protection association statistics. Those fires typically result in eight deaths and over $30 million in property damage. The rate of death is substantially higher than a typical house fire.

“Obviously we are really, really concerned with Christmas trees,” Meston said. “When they get dried out that’s when they get really volatile.”

To reduce risk, Meston said to remember to cut the bottoms off of trees bought on Christmas tree lots before putting them in water. A freshly cut or re-cut tree trunk will better absorb water and keep it from drying out.

“The base of the Christmas tree is a big wick,” Meston said, explaining it absorbs better if it hasn’t had the chance to dry out.

Tree placement is also key. Meston said to never place a tree near a fireplace or other heat source, as it will increase the rate at which a tree will dry out.

Candles and decorations are of equal concern. They should not be left unattended or near anything flammable. Things like curtains or tablecloths can catch fire quickly given the opportunity.

Selecting the proper lights for trees is also important.

“Use LED lights if at all possible,” Meston said. “They generate much less heat.”

More information on holiday fire safety is available at

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