Holiday Fire Safety

A house fire occurs every 77 seconds. Fires and burns are the third leading cause of unintentional home injury and related deaths. Roughly half of all home fire deaths in the U.S. result from fires that are reported between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM .

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in deaths, injuries, and more than $6 million in property damage.


December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In 2005, structure fires started by candles resulted in an estimated 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries, and a property loss of $539 million.

Heating Equipment

Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January, and February.

Space heaters account for 73 percent of deaths from home heating fires. Chimneys and chimney connectors account for 40 percent of home heating fire incidents.

Working smoke alarms in houses reduce the likelihood of death between 40 and 50 percent. Have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home and test them monthly. A sprinkler system increases the likelihood of surviving a house fire by 97 percent and water damage is far less. A sprinkler system uses about 340 gallons to extinguish or control a fire, compared to more than 3,000 gallons of water typically used by firehouses at a home without sprinklers.

  • Heating equipment too close to things that can burn is the leading factor contributing to home heating fires. Keep space heaters at least three feet away from things that can burn. Turn them off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • In a fireplace or wood stove, use only dry, seasoned wood to avoid the build-up of creosote, an oily deposit that easily catches fire. Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen. Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.
  • Have a service person inspect chimneys, fireplaces, wood and coal stoves and central furnaces once a year. Failure to clean accounts for over half of the confined chimney and chimney connector fires.
  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, cracked sockets, etc. Do not leave holiday lights on unattended. Use only nonflammable decorations and place them away from heat vents.
  • More than half of all candle fires started when something that could burn was too close to the candle. Keep candles at least one foot away from things that can catch fire and never leave candles burning unattended. Do not place your Christmas tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. Keep the stand filled with water at all times. Do not have your tree up longer than two weeks. Within seconds of ignition, a dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze. At five seconds, the fire extends up the tree. Within 40 seconds, the entire room erupts into flames, oxygen is depleted, and deadly, toxic smoke engulfs the scene.
  • Researchers found that a single match could not ignite a newly cut tree placed in a stand with at least a 7.6 liter water capacity. Even an open flame to the tree using a propane torch caused the branches to ignite briefly, but self-extinguished when the researchers removed the torch.

Finally, be sure to make a fire escape plan. Find two exits out of every room and pick a meeting place outside.


U.S. Fire Administration, Home Safety Council, National Fire Protection Association, Gazette, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only. For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.

Shady Grove Adventist Hospital is located at 9901 Medical Center Drive in Rockville . For more information or to receive our newsletter with details about medical services, health classes, and upcoming events, go to www To find a local physician, call 1-800-642-0101 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.