Five Tips to Keep Your Home Safe from Fires this Holiday Season

The holiday season is best known for celebrations, family gatherings and great food. Unfortunately, it’s also known for house fires. In fact, a survey of more than 350 ServiceMaster Restore franchise owners across the U.S. revealed that December is the most common month for house fires. The primary cause of fires during the holiday season? Cooking. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of house fires and house fire injuries.

To help keep families safe this holiday season, ServiceMaster Restore is sharing five important fire safety reminders

  • Cook with caution: The best way to deal with a cooking-related fire is to prevent it in the first place. Here’s how:
    • Never leave your stove unattended. If your oven or stovetop is on, someone should always be there to keep an eye on it. “Set it and forget it” recipes are great, but forgetting is what puts most people at risk.
    • Set a timer on simmering pots and pans. If a recipe calls for something to simmer or be cooked on low heat, set an oven timer to remind you to turn off the heat. Cooking on that setting can be deceiving, because it almost looks like nothing is on, but in reality, nearby dishtowels and potholders are still at risk to catch on fire.
    • Stock your kitchen with fire-safety essentials, like a fire extinguisher. That way, if there is a grease fire on or in the stove, you’re prepared to put it out right away.
  • Deck the halls – carefully: Many homeowners don’t think about fire safety when it comes to holiday decorations. Two major culprits?
    • They may be beautiful, but they can cause big problems. During the holiday season, candles are responsible for starting nearly 40 percent of home decoration structure fires. When lighting candles, make sure to keep them in sight and put them out when you leave a room. Or, invest in battery operated candles. Some even come with remote controls so you can wow your guests from afar – safely.
    • And the beloved family Christmas tree? Make sure it is at least three feet away from any heat source and isn’t blocking any exits. Stick to quality, indoor string lights that don’t show any signs of wear and tear. Once the holidays have come and gone, properly dispose of your tree as soon as the needles start to fall, as dried trees and pine needles are highly flammable.
  • Have an evacuation plan: In the event of a fire, there’s little time to react. Having a well-rehearsed evacuation plan will help ensure you and your loved ones know what to do in a high-stress fire situation.
    • To start, walk through your home and locate all the possible exits.
    • Choose a meeting place a safe distance away from the house. Make sure everyone in your household knows the plan and practice it a few times each year for good measure.
    • With young ones in the house, drawing a floor plan of the home with exits and exit routes can be helpful.
    • And don’t forget Fido! Designate one family member to be responsible for your pets, so the entire family isn’t scrambling to find your furry friend, when he/she may already be safely removed from the premise.
    • Make sure your holiday guests are up to speed on the plan, too.
  • Prep your fireplace: There’s nothing more enchanting than gathering around a crackling fireplace to open gifts and sip on some eggnog. But before you throw on the Yule log, make sure your chimney is ready. Inspect it each season before its first use. If you see black and flaky creosote deposits, use a wire brush to scrub them away. Use a flashlight to peek inside and make sure there are no loose bricks, blockages or debris.
  • Read this before your reach for the space heater: When the temperatures drop, it’s tempting to reach for a space heater as a quick and efficient way to warm up. But exercise caution. When not used properly, a space heater poses a dangerous fire hazard. Space heaters account for 40 percent of home heating fires, and a staggering 84 percent of home heating fire deaths. Here’s how to stay safe and warm with your heater:
    1. Ensure cords are in good working condition and never plug the space heater into a surge protector. Many surge protectors cannot handle the high-wattage, which could result in a fire.
    2. Keep drapes and flammable items away from space heaters. To ensure this, leave at least three feet clear on all sides of the space heater.
    3. Always unplug space heaters when going to bed or leaving the room. Most space heater accidents happen while everyone is sleeping. You’re much safer bundled up in warm pajamas and blankets.

Should you still find yourself facing a home fire this holiday season, remember to put your safety first and your gifts second. As tempting as it may be to try and salvage presents from under the tree in the case of a fire, don’t. Your personal safety and the safety of your family members are far more valuable than anything Santa may have left in your stocking. Evacuate as soon as possible and leave it to the experts to extinguish the flames. Even if it seems like the fire is contained, wait for clearance from the firefighters before reentering to retrieve your possessions.

Written by Peter Duncanson

Peter Duncanson is the Director of Systems Development for ServiceMaster Restore and Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Peter holds many certifications including Master Water Restorer, Master Fire and Smoke Restorer and Master Textile Cleaner through The Clean Trust and is a CRM (Certified Mold Remediator) and CMRS (Certified Mold Remediation Supervisor) through the IAQA. Peter’s expert knowledge on all things home-related helps readers take simple, yet highly effective steps to safeguard their home and their family.