How to prevent house fires this holiday season

  • It's the time of year for a fireplace, but leaving it unattended is a bad idea if you want to prevent a fast-moving fire.

    It's the time of year for a fireplace, but leaving it unattended is a bad idea if you want to prevent a fast-moving fire.

 
 
Updated 11/29/2015 7:07 AM

With the winter holiday season comes risk factors for house fires.

Residents start using furnaces and space heaters. They bring flammable Christmas trees into their homes and hang stockings over fireplaces. They decorate their homes with candles and holiday lights.

 

And between dinner parties and large multicourse holiday meals, residents often use their kitchen more this season than any other time during the year, said Kevin Switzer, manager of the fire prevention division in the state fire marshal's office. Cooking remains the leading cause of residential fires, he said.

However, it's a common misconception that house fire occurrences skyrocket during the winter months. Though winter month fire occurrences may be slightly higher, Switzer said, he hasn't found a rhyme or reason for house fire trends in 30 years in the field.

"The only trend that I know is that there is no trend," he said. "It goes up and down, and as far as I can tell, there's no reason for it."

Of all residential fires in the U.S. from 2009 to 2013, 10 percent occurred in December, and 11 percent in January, according to the National Fire Protection Association. November, February and March yielded 9 percent of all fires, whereas the spring and summer months varied between 7 and 8 percent.

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There are simple ways to avoid the increased risks during the holiday season, Switzer said:

• Have your furnace checked and cleaned before the weather gets cold.

• Check hot water heaters once a year.

• Never leave a fireplace fire unattended.

• Make sure your chimney is clean before using a fireplace.

• Monitor food at all times while cooking, and set timers.

• Keep fabrics and other combustibles away from lights and heaters.

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