14 Fire Hazard Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

14 minute read Published on Dec 15, 2022 by BrokerLink Communications

Christmas tree and stocking near fireplace

Christmas trees are a holiday tradition, but they're flammable and could catch fire if you aren't being cautious. BrokerLink is here to provide you with some holiday fire safety tips.

Holiday Fire Safety and Your Home

While candles help set the mood and outdoor lights enhance the festive appeal of your home, these are all fire hazards that need to be handled with extreme caution. Your home insurance might be able to cover most damages as a result of a fire, but it's better to avoid the mess and prevent any disruptions. After all, the holidays are a time for family. They're the few days in a year that children go to sleep dreaming of. Why would you want to risk disaster by being careless with your décor? Just one open flame left unattended could spell disaster.

So, if you want to celebrate the holidays with minimal worry, keep in mind the following safety tips for helping keep you and your home as safe as possible.

BrokerLink's Top 13 Holiday Fire Hazard Safety Tips

Festive celebrations and winter greens are your standard hallmarks of the holiday season, but they can quickly change a joyous, relaxing holiday time spent with family to a devastating event without the proper caution.

To protect you and your family, BrokerLink has compiled 12 top tips for holiday fire safety. Read on to learn how you can preserve your cherished holiday memories and keep your family secure and safe this December:

1. Always Check Your Light Strings Before Setting Them Up

Before you decide to set up your electric lights, take a glance at those cords closely. If any sets look frayed or damaged, or if they're starting to show their age, discard them. Check for any loose connections, bare wires, or cracked sockets.

  • For internal lights, always use CSA-approved Christmas lights - Avoid using electric lights on a metal tree. If those lights are faulty, they might charge the tree and someone touching the tree could be electrocuted.
  • Take a peek at your extension cords while you're at it, too - Extension cords can begin to fray with time. Ensure you're placing your cords in a location where they won't be rolled over by heavy tires or where you won't be placing any heavy décor. Ensure all your family members are aware of where your cords are lying so that they aren't tripped over. You might want to tuck them against your home to ensure they aren't in the way. You could also fasten outdoor lights securely to trees or other firm supports. No one wants to be faced with a potential lawsuit if a caroller trips over a cord and injures themselves while coming to their door to spread holiday cheer!
  • Do not use any lights that are intended for outdoor use on your Christmas tree - Only use lights that are safe for use indoors.
  • Consider using LED lights to decorate your tree - These type of lights are less likely to cause fires.
  • Try not to leave your Christmas tree lights on for extended periods of time - This can make your home more vulnerable to a fire. Remember to turn the lights off before leaving your home. Consider investing in a timer that will turn the lights off for you after a specific amount of time.
  • Do not overload your electrical circuits when plugging in any Christmas trees or decorations - This can cause an electrical fire. Spread your decorations out as much as possible.
  • Keep any cords, lights or electric displays away from snow, water or any type of moisture.
  • Avoid any possible damages to the insulation of any cords - Double check that they are not pinched in doors or windows, or placed under any heavy furniture.

2. Check to See If Your Smoke Alarms Are in Working Order

You should regularly check your smoke alarms at least twice a year; the holiday season is a great time to do just that! Fire departments are already overloaded this time of year, so it's best not to add to the chaos. If any of your existing smoke alarms are over 10 years old, it's time to replace them. You'll need to have working smoke alarms on every storey of your home and outside of every sleeping area. Always test your alarms to ensure that they can alert you and your family if there is a fire. These precious seconds your smoke alarms will give you to escape your home if it has caught fire can save lives.

3. Invest in Proper Home Insurance Coverage

While it’s always a good idea for you to have a strong home insurance policy, it is even more important that you’re protected with home insurance over the holiday season. A good home insurance policy will help to protect you and your family against the dangers of fires during this time of year. It will help cover any damages in the unfortunate event of a fire in your home.

Speaking to a broker is a great way to learn more about the types of coverage that are available to you, and which ones are the most suitable for your lifestyle and your individual household.

If you are planning on travelling during this holiday season, or going to be leaving your home unattended for an extended period of time, it’s important for you to know how often your property needs to be checked while you’re away. A BrokerLink broker will be able to review your specific homeowner’s policy to determine this time frame.

If you’re interested in learning more about home insurance, or even just your insurance options in general, we’re here to help! Get a home quote, give us a call or stop by one of our community branches.


4. Blow Out Lit Candles When You Leave Your Home

While candles are an excellent way to set the mood before a holiday, you'll need to remember to blow them out before leaving a room and going to bed. The great aroma they produce isn't worth waking up to a house that's caught on fire from a candle fire.

Candles should always be kept safely away from young children and pets, as well as any material that might be flammable. Keep them away from high-traffic hallways and walkways. This includes upholstery, tablecloths, curtains, paper, and other flammable Christmas decorations. Candles should also be placed in sturdy, burn-resistant containers. These should be weighted so that they won't tip over and can collect dripping wax. When purchasing your candles, be wary of purchasing any novelty candles, and candles surrounded by flammable paint, dried flowers, paper, or containers that can melt. Keep your candle wicks short! Always trim them to one-quarter inch.

5. Water Natural Christmas Trees Daily

To purchase an artificial Christmas tree or a real Christmas tree? This is the dilemma many families often face come the holiday season, but for those that opt for real trees, make sure to water those daily! Dry, dying trees can quickly become a fire hazard if not attended to often enough. Purchase a fresh tree and keep the base of its trunk in water at all times. You will also want to ensure your tree is kept away from any source of heating equipment, especially fireplaces, candles, and heaters.

6. Ensure That Everyone Knows What to do If There is a Fire

Fires should be prevented at all costs, and every family should have a plan ready if the unfortunate occurs. Develop a process for every family member and guest to practice safely escaping a home fire. Ensure everyone is assigned roles: someone to make sure that the youngest children are out safely, people to help out the elderly or anyone else needing assistance to evacuate, etc. You should name a muster point where every one of your family members can go if there's an emergency. Make sure this muster point is away from the danger but not too far that people won't have trouble finding it.

Once you are outside, make sure someone knows to call 911 from either a cell phone or from a neighbour's house.

7. Be on The Lookout For Cooking Fires

The kitchen is one of the most common places for potential fire risks. Be on the alert. Avoid entering the kitchen if you are starting to feel sleepy or have consumed alcohol. Kitchen fires can quickly go from bad to worse if you aren't feeling your best.

  • Always stay in the kitchen if you are grilling, broiling, or frying any food - Even if you leave the kitchen for a very short period of time, turn off your stove. Check any food that is baking, simmering, roasting, or boiling from time to time and use a timer to remind yourself that something is cooking.
  • Remove flammable items from near the stovetop - This includes wooden utensils, oven mitts, food packaging, curtains, towels, and so on. Establish a child and pet-free zone at least 3 feet around where food is being prepared or carried.
  • Grease can burst into flames if you aren't being careful - In fact, grease and fat are the leading cause of home fires in the country, so if grease in a pan or pot catches fire, here's what you need to do:
    1. Turn off the heat.
    2. Smother the fire by covering the pot or pan with a lid and do not remove the lid until the pan has completely cooled.
    3. If the grease fire is shallower, use baking soda.
    4. Avoid turning on the overhead fan as this can just spread the fire.
    5. Never use water on a grease fire.

8. Leave Some Room Around Your Space Heaters

If you use a space heater to take off some of that winter chill, make sure you give it some room from all adjacent objects, especially anything that could catch fire. This includes holiday decorations, upholstery, curtains, etc. Try to keep your heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable items. Remember that trash is a combustible item, too. Keep it away from whatever heat source you plan on using. And whatever you do, never use your oven to heat your home!

Ensure a qualified professional cleans your chimneys and heating equipment once per year. This will help keep your family safe by improving your odds of noticing any cracks, loose bricks, or any other damages that could pose a fire hazard. All unused flue openings should be sealed appropriately.

Remember to turn off any portable heaters before leaving or going to bed. Unplug cords from electrical outlets and do a once-over of your home before turning in to reduce the risk of electrical malfunctions.

9. Prohibit Smokers From Smoking Indoors

One of the leading causes of fires not just in Canada, but in the world is careless smoking. It's best if you avoid having anyone smoke inside but if you do allow smoking indoors, have your smokers use large, deep ashtrays that cannot be knocked over. Ensure that all cigarette butts are properly extinguished and wetted before disposal.

If you are permitting smoking indoors, remind smokers to keep their smoking materials on them so that young children do not have access to them.

If anyone is under the influence, be it drugs or alcohol, make sure that you do not allow them to drive. Ensure that there's a plan ahead for a designated driver, a cab, or alternative transportation.

10. Purchase Your Christmas Trees Wisely

Christmas trees are unfortunately a big fire safety hazard. If you are looking for an artificial Christmas tree, be mindful of the label that says, "fire resistant." If no such label exists, move on! Remember that these labels don't entirely mean that the tree will not catch fire, but it does indicate that a burning tree can be extinguished quickly.

If you are purchasing a live Christmas tree, again, look for freshness. Fresh trees are green with needles that are hard to pull from branches. If the needles are bent between your fingers, they won't break. A fresh tree should have a trunk butt that is sticky and, if tapped on the ground, the tree will lose few to no needles.

Always place your Christmas tree, artificial or natural, away from fireplaces and radiators. Heated rooms can dry out live trees rapidly. Avoid placing your tree anywhere where there is a lot of foot traffic.

At the end of the holiday season, find out from your municipality when trees can be picked up at your curbside. Do not burn your used real Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove! Rapid burning can damage your firebox and chimney, resulting in a severe fire hazard.

11. Be Mindful of How You Plan Your Holiday Entertaining

Guests can be a considerable hazard. Things can happen when people are busy enjoying the holidays and caution can be left to the wayside. Be mindful of how many drinks your guests have had or if someone seems to have had too much. One bumped-over candle from your inebriated uncle could cause your artificial tree to catch on fire, and that's no fun for anyone.

Tell your guests about your home fire escape plan and ensure everyone is aware of all exits in your home.

Always keep children and pets away from lit candles, wood fires, and candle fires. If you have a pet that is especially rowdy, take them out for a walk or play with them a bit before guests arrive to tire them out. If you need to, you can set up a pet-friendly space for your dog or cat to spend a few hours to reduce the risk of fire. Make sure they have access to food, water, and some enrichment to keep them occupied during this time.

An adult should always monitor younger children in the house.

12. Monitor Devices or Toys With Lithium-ion Batteries

It can be great fun to be gifted a lithium-ion toy during the festive period, but these can add an additional risk to your home. You should be mindful of monitoring toys or devices containing lithium-ion batteries while they're charging and read the manufacturer's instructions on how to charge safely. Never exceed the recommended charging time.

While the fire risk is low, these batteries can catch fire if faulty or have suffered external damage. They can be particularly volatile under stress. If you notice a battery is overheating, move the device away from flammable materials and cut off the current supply. If a fire does occur, use a standard ABC or BC dry chemical fire extinguisher.

13. Check and Re-check Your Carbon Monoxide Alarms

While this isn't exactly a tip about fire safety, it's just as important. Carbon monoxide is an invisible and odourless gas that is otherwise undetectable without a monitor. It can also kill you very quickly. Be sure to replace any carbon monoxide alarms that are over seven years old. Your alarms should be installed outside of every sleeping room so that they can alert you to the presence of deadly gas while you are sleeping.

In Canada, over 50 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide, if it doesn't kill, can severely injure. It replaces oxygen in the blood and reduces oxygen's ability to flow to the heart, brain, and vital organs.

Why is this prevalent during the holiday season? Because carbon monoxide is produced when carbon-based fuels are incompletely burned, like propane, natural gas, gasoline, charcoal, kerosene, coal, heating oil, and wood. So be sure to check your carbon monoxide alarms!

We hope that these important safety tips have helped you secure your home before the holiday season! Christmas day is so exciting, and it's better to have it be kept a cherished memory in your family's minds than a day of devastation and loss.

14. Check your chimney

The fireplace is often a popular central gathering spot in many homes. However, before you light your fireplace, we encourage you to review our information on how to safely use and maintain your fireplace and chimney.

How does chimney debris form

Wood-burning fireplaces emit a black residue known as creosote into the chimney. Creosote forms from the condensation that occurs when fire meets cooler temperatures as it makes its way up the chimney. Creosote can take three different forms: it can appear as a fine black dust, otherwise known as soot; it can take the form of a tar-like substance; or it can harden into a shiny glaze, all depending on what stage it is in. In any form, creosote is highly combustible and can cause chimney fires.

While gas fireplaces avoid the problem of creosote, they are not immune to debris building up inside the chimney. Chimneys are a popular choice for birds’ nests. Additionally, the ceramic logs used in gas-burning fire can deteriorate and clog vents.

Chimney cleaning and inspections

While there are a few methods of cleaning your own chimney, we recommend having a certified professional do the job. Climbing onto your roof is a dangerous task and exposure to debris, such as creosote is hazardous to your vision and respiratory systems, unless you are properly protected.

Furthermore, a certified chimney cleaner can thoroughly inspect both the interior and exterior of your chimney to identify cracks or damages. Not only can these types of openings result in heat loss to your home, but they can also cause moisture to enter your chimney system, posing a potential fire hazard.

Tips for wood-burning fireplaces

  1. Restricted air supply in fireplaces promotes creosote build-up. To create adequate air flow, make sure your fireplace’s damper is open wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly. A damper is the mechanism above the firebox that you use to seal the air flow from your fireplace to the chimney when not in use.
  2. Burn only seasoned firewood. Unseasoned wood contains moisture that will produce cooler smoke and more creosote.
  3. Burning smaller, hotter fires will produce less smoke and as a result, form less creosote. Softwoods such as pine, firs and spruce are recommended over hardwoods such as oak, maple and ash.
  4. Never burn any other substances other than wood. This includes wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and household garbage.
  5. Always wait until the flame has been completely put out before closing the damper. Collect all ashes into a metal container.

Tips for gas fireplaces

  1. Over time, elements such as valves and connections can crack and create potential gas leaks, which can result in explosions, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. A certified chimney sweep will be able to identify these hazards.
  2. The glass front of a gas fireplace can reach dangerously high temperatures. We recommend placing a safety screen or protective barrier to prevent contact with the glass front.

Remember, safety first

  • Make sure your living room has adequate ventilation and that you have a working carbon monoxide detector in close proximity to your fireplace. For more tips about carbon monoxide safety, read our Carbon Monoxide Safety blog post.
  • Be sure to keep the area around your fireplace free from any items that might catch on fire or overheat. As always with open flames, never leave children unattended by a fire.
  • In addition to following the tips above, it is important to have working smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher in your house in case of emergencies. Read these fire safety tips to get you started.

By making sure your chimney and fireplace are clear and in good working condition, you can help keep your home safe for your family and loved ones this holiday season.

Contact BrokerLink for a Free Home Insurance Quote

Your standard home insurance includes coverage for fire damages. BrokerLink's fully licenced insurance advisors are happy to help you insure your belongings and property, whether that's by phone, email, or in person at one of our locations throughout Canada. If you already have home insurance with us but are unsure of what you have coverage for, don't hesitate to get in touch to discuss any uncertainties you may have about your policy.

Regardless of how you choose to get in touch, BrokerLink's team of insurance brokers are friendly and ready to assist you.

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