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Fire Safety: Take Steps to Ensure Your Holidays are Joyful and Safe

coffee cup and candle in front of a fireplace

During the winter months, heaters get turned up and lights and candles get lit to warm and brighten up our homes for the holidays. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when fire departments respond to more fires involving heaters, candles, and holiday lights.

Be mindful of your heaters, candles, and festive lights this holiday season and take a few steps to ensure your holidays are joyful and safe.

Heating your home safely

Space heater safety diagramFires caused by furniture, bedding, and other materials placed too close to baseboard heaters and portable heaters are the most common types of heating-related residential fires.

Baseboard heaters should have at least 12 inches of space between them and any and all combustible items, including furniture, curtains, bedding, newspapers, and books. If you use portable space heaters, make sure to allow even more space.

Tips for use of portable space heaters:

  • Keep portable heaters at least three feet (36”) away from combustible items.
  • Always place portable heaters on flat surfaces, plugged directly into the wall (not an extension cord).
  • Always turn the heater OFF when leaving the room or going to sleep.

Be safe with candles

closeup of candles and music deviceMore than half of all candle fires start when combustible materials such as drapes, clothing, and bedding are too close to the candle. December is the peak month for candle fires and roughly one-third of all candle fires start in the bedroom.

Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell, and feel like real candles.

If you use candles:

  • Extinguish all candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
  • Put candles in sturdy metal, glass, or ceramic holders.
  • Place lighted candles where they won’t be knocked over by children, pets, or anyone else.
  • Keep burning candles away from items that can catch on fire such as furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, books, paper, etc.

How to handle those holiday lights

string of holiday lightsHoliday lights aren’t limited to winter. Various set of colored lights set the mood for celebrations throughout the year. White lights illuminate landscapes and patios in winter and summer.

If you use lights:

  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets for both indoor and outdoor lights.
  • Limit connecting strands of holiday lights to three.
  • Do not use frayed, broken, or worn string lights.
  • Use low-wattage mini-lights (2.5-watts or energy efficient LED bulbs), which operate at a cool-to-the-touch temperature.
  • Always unplug tree lights before leaving home or going to sleep.

Finally, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are working. To learn more about the Seattle Fire Department’s free smoke/CO alarm program, click here, e-mail fireinfo@seattle.gov, or call 206-386-1337.

The Seattle Fire Department wishes you very safe and happy holidays!


Contributor William Mace works in public affairs, education, and outreach at Seattle Fire Department. Learn more about fire prevention and safety here.

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