Keep Fire Safety in Mind as You Celebrate

Candles, Christmas trees and holiday distractions raise risk of a blaze

FRIDAY, Dec. 25, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Candles glowing on beautifully set tables and yule logs burning make for a picture-perfect holiday setting. But all that heat also raises the risk of fires, experts say.

Alcohol and parties have the potential to make people less cautious about fire safety, said Dr. Roger Yurt, director of the Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Every holiday season brings an estimated 47,000 fires that kill 500 people.

One of the deadliest causes of house fires are Christmas trees, which are cut early in the season, dry out and quickly turn into kindling. One in every 22 fires caused by a tree ends in death.

To minimize your risk, keep your tree well-watered, never place it in front of a door or a fireplace, and make sure the tree is at least three feet from other heat sources, such as space heaters or radiators, advises Nicole Leahy, manager of outreach and community education at the medical center.

Candles are another source of fire danger. Fires caused by candles quadruple during the holiday season, Yurt said. Keep candles at least three feet from curtains, holiday decorations and Christmas trees, and never leave candles burning unattended.

Decorations can pose their own risks. Place decorations away from space heaters and radiators and, when possible, use fire-retardant decorations. Test and inspect your holiday lights each year for frayed wires or bare spots in the insulation, and unplug the lights when going to sleep or going out.

Wires on lights can short, leading to fires. Use a surge protector and don't overload outlets when plugging in holiday lights and decorations.

Watch your children around the fireplace -- or better yet, wait until they are old enough to understand the dangers before lighting a fire.

When cooking, don't allow anyone within a three-foot "zone of safety" around the cooking area. Open burners, pot handles and oven doors all pose burn risks. Many serious burns on children occur when a cook drops a pot of hot liquid and it splatters.

When cooking, don't wear that blouse with the ruffled sleeves or toss your pot holder carelessly on the stove. Wear tight-fitting clothing to prevent the fabric from brushing against a heat source and keep paper towels and other flammable objects far from your burners.

More information

The U.S. Fire Administration has more on holiday fire safety.

SOURCE: New York-Presbyterian Hospital, news release, December 2009
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