Fire Officials Offer Holiday Fire Safety Tips

This is a press release from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services:

STOW, MA — This year, keeping our families safe during the holidays is at the top of our lists.

“The holidays are a wonderful time of the year, but sadly they are also a time when many fires occur,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Keep your holidays bright by making fire safety part of your celebrations.” Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are the days with the most home fires in Massachusetts.

“The first thing on your holiday to-do list should be making sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of your home,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “They will provide you the earliest possible warning of danger.But remember to get out at the first sign of danger. In several recent fires, people did not react right away to the sound of their alarms and barely escaped with their lives.”

Burn Candles inside a 1-Foot Circle of Safety

State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said: “Many of the holidays celebrated at this time of year use candles. Sadly, the increased candle use at this time of year also causes a boost in candle fires.”

Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are among the December days when the most candle fires occur. Consider using battery-operated candles instead, especially if you have children or pets.

  • On December 22, 2019, at 9:17 p.m., the Hingham Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a single-family home. A 10-year old lit the candle in a centerpiece decoration in the dining room. The candle burned down and ignited the rest of the decoration.
  • On Christmas Day, 2019, at 2:51 p.m., the Hingham Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a single-family home. The candle ignited a decorative garland on the mantel over the fireplace.
  • On Christmas Day, 2019, at 2:38 p.m., the New Bedford Fire Department responded to a candle fire in the living room of a single-family home. No one was injured at this fire. The home did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated at $100,000.
  • On December 28, 2019, at 7:13 p.m., the Boston Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a two-family home. A candle ignited a curtain in a pantry that spread to a nearby bookshelf and books. The smoke alarms operated and no one was injured. The home did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $10,000.

Cooking Leading Cause of Holiday Season Fires

Ostroskey added: “Cooking is the leading cause of fires in the home and the holiday season is no exception. It is important to remember two key things: Stand by Your Pan to prevent cooking fires and to Put a Lid on It if one does occur. Leaving cooking unattended, even for a minute, is the leading cause of fires. When baking, use a timer, and stay nearby.”

  • On Christmas Eve, 2019, at 6:07 p.m., the Bridgewater Fire Department was called to a cooking fire in an 18-unit apartment building. Alarms were present and operated and no one was injured. The building did not have sprinklers and the estimated dollar loss was $6,000.
  • On Christmas Day, 2019 at 12:20 p.m., the Boston Fire Department was called to a cooking fire in an apartment building. A stovetop fire extended to the kitchen cabinets. Alarms were present and alerted the occupants and no one was injured. The fire caused $7,000 in damages.

Heating Second Leading Cause of Holiday Season Fires

Heating is the second leading cause of home fires during the holiday season.

“Keep warm and keep safe by having the furnace and chimney checked by professionals, and when heating with wood, dispose of the ashes in a metal ashcan with a lid outside,” reminded Ostroskey. “A single ember can stay hot and undetected for days. Use the 3-foot rule and keep combustibles, like holiday decorations, three feet away from heat sources.

  • On December 14, 2019, at 5:54 p.m., the Lunenburg Fire Department responded to a fire in a single-family home. Heat from a fire in the fireplace ignited the decorations around the mantle.
  • On December 8, 2019, at 6:51 a.m., the Hubbardston Fire Department was called to a chimney fire in a single-family home. Smoke alarms operated and no one was injured at this fire. The home was not sprinklered and the fire caused $30,000 in damages.
  • On December 22, 2019, at 10:36 p.m., the Ashburnham Fire Department responded to a chimney fire in a single-family home. Smoke alarms operated and no one was injured at this fire. The home was not sprinklered and the fire caused $31,500 in damages.
  • On December 28, 2019, at 6:00 p.m., the Revere Fire Department was called to a heating fire in a single-family home. An oil burner had fire pushing out the ventilation vents. The total estimated dollar loss from this fire was $10,000.
  • On December 29, 2019, at 8:39 a.m., the Goshen Fire Department was called to a heating fire in a single-family home. A chimney fire heated the structural materials and insulation around it on the roof and attic. No one was injured at this fire. The total estimated dollar loss from this fire was $7,000.
  • On New Year’s Day, 2020, at 6:21 p.m., the West Newbury Fire Department was called to a heating fire in a single-family home. The fire was in the basement portion of a chimney. One firefighter was injured at this fire. Alarms were present and operated. The building was not sprinklered and the fire caused $170,000 in damages.

Christmas Tree Safety Tips

Although Christmas tree fires are rare these days, they are very serious when they do occur. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one-third of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems and one-quarter start when the tree is placed too close to a heat source such as a fireplace, woodstove, radiator or space heater.

Ostroskey said: “Always keep your Christmas trees watered, place them well away from a heat source, and dispose of them promptly after the holidays. Remember to shut off the lights when you go to bed or leave the house.”

There were five Christmas tree fires last winter in Massachusetts.

  • On January 3, 2020 at 4:30 p.m., the Westfield Fire Department responded to a Christmas tree fire in a single-family home. The fire began in the living room. No one was injured at this fire. The home did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $160,000.
  • On January 6, 2020 at 9:59 p.m., the Belmont Fire Department responded to a Christmas tree fire in a single-family home. The fire began in the living room where a candle ignited an extremely dry tree. Smoke alarms operated and no one was injured.

Heating Leading Source of CO in the Home

Heating is also the leading cause of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in the home. There have been several recent incidents where tragedy was barely averted. A Plymouth family of four was recently treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. Their carbon monoxide alarms were expired and did not operate to warn them of the danger. The basement furnace had malfunctioned and was emitting deadly levels of CO. Both smoke and CO alarms are required in all Massachusetts homes, and must be replaced when they are too old. Nicole’s Law, which requires CO alarms in homes, was enacted after the sad loss of a 7-year old Plymouth girl to carbon monoxide poisoning in 2005.

For more information on winter holiday fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Department of Fire Services at 1-877-9-NO FIRE or on-line at http://www.mass.gov/dfs and search for Winter Holiday Safety.

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