Holiday fires cause deaths annually

By Dan Martynowicz

A fire in your home this holiday season could extinguish the holiday cheer.

According to a press release from the DeKalb Fire Department, the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of 430 fires involving Christmas decorations occur each year. These fires result in 21 deaths and 43 injuries annually.

More than half of these house fires are attributed to Christmas trees. According to the press release, a dehydrated or old tree can be ignited by shorts in electrical lights and open flame.

DeKalb Fire Chief Bruce Harrison recommended a synthetic tree because they are less of a fire hazard.

“In my own home I have an artificial Chrismas tree; it’s definitely safer,” Harrison said. “Trust me, it’s difficult for me to. I took my kid to cut down a real tree years ago. There’s nothing like a real tree.”

When choosing a real tree, the fire department advises inspecting needles and branches: These should not come off when pulled or when the trunk is bounced off the ground. If needles to come off easily, it is a sign the tree is dehydrated and a fire hazard. Once in the home, do not store a Christmas tree near a heat source like an air conditioning vent or fireplace and do not keep a tree for longer than two weeks.

Holiday lights and decorations can also pose a serious fire hazard, Harrison said. Frayed wires, bare spots or gaps in the insulation, broken sockets and excessive wear and tear can lead to house fires, according to the press release. In addition, never link three or more light strings together as this could overload the electrical outlets.

Harrison also said cooking fires account for over half the calls his department receives, with an increase in these types of calls over the holidays. Harrison said fires which start in a pot and grow to cause structural damage to buildings have increased 106 percent over the past several years.

“I love trees and candles too,” Harrison said. “But you need to accept that if you want them in your house during the holiday season, you need to be an active participant in fire prevention.”