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INDIANAPOLIS — Safety experts are urging people to check their list twice to make sure they are taking precautions to avoid potential dangers associated with common holiday products and traditions.

On December 16, 2020, the Indianapolis Fire Department responded to an apartment complex near Township Line Road and 86th Street after Christmas lights left on the balcony caught fire.

This incident was one of the hundreds of fires that U.S. fire departments respond to every year. Data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that between 2015 and 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 790 home structure fires per year that begin with decorations. This does not even include Christmas Trees.

In the same time frame, departments responded to an average of 160 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. Between these two categories alone, 92 people die, 38 are injured and $23 million in direct property damage occurs every year.

According to the NFPA, Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are among the leading days of the year for home fires. Only Thanksgiving tops them.

“December is a leading month for home fires, in large part because many of the activities we engage in during the holiday season reflect leading causes of home fires year-round,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. 

Other than decorations and Christmas trees, cooking, and candles can pose dangers in the home. However, the majority of winter fires can be prevented with a little added awareness and planning.

“By knowing where potential fire hazards exist and taking some basic safety precautions to prevent them, people can enjoy a festive, fire-free holiday season,” said Carli.

The NFPA offers these safety tips for the holidays.

Holiday decorating

  • Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
  • Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn.
  • Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
  • Blow out lit candles when you leave the room or go to bed.
  • Turn off all light strings and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

Holiday Entertaining

Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.

  • Keep children and pets away from lit candles.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside. Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children do not touch them.
  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding.

Christmas Tree safety

Picking the tree

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing the tree

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2” from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles,
    heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting the tree

  • Use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or
    outdoor use.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

After Christmas

  • Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry.
  • Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage,
    or placed outside against the home.
  • Check with your local community to find a recycling program.
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.