Avoiding holiday hazards: Tips on how to keep your Christmas merry and bright at home

A burning Christmas tree and gifts stand in a replica living room during a demonstration. The fire department has informed about the dangers at Christmas and New Year's Eve. Photo: Paul Zinken/dpa (Photo by Paul Zinken/picture alliance via Getty Imag

It's the season to light up the holidays, but with decorating and hosting Christmas parties, fire officials say there should be an abundance of caution.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 790 home structure fires per year that began with decorations – and that figure excludes Christmas trees. On average, those fires cause one civilian fire death, 26 civilian fire injuries, and $13 million in direct property damage per year.

Holiday decorating safety tips

NFPA offers the following advice when it comes to holiday decorating:

  • Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame-resistant or flame-retardant.
  • Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn.
  • Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for a number of light strands to connect.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights, so the cords do not get damaged.
  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.

Chief Matt Serone of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue advises that you don't keep your fire extinguisher in the kitchen. It should be centrally located in your home.

"You only want to [use] that if it's a small enough fire that you can contain it with this," he said. "If you already got smoke filling up the house, and you're going to be putting yourself in danger, just get out – and always call 911 before you use this."

Hosting a holiday party

Throwing a party to celebrate Christmas with loved ones is a tradition for many and there are ways to make sure it's a safe celebration. NFPA provides the following advice:

  • Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.
  • Keep children and pets away from lit candles.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside. Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children do not touch them.
  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding. 

Caring for your Christmas tree

When it comes to Christmas trees, NFPA suggests following these tips to ensure no problems arise:

  • Use lights that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use. 
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect. 
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. 
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. 
  • Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home. 
  • Check with your local community to find a recycling program. 
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer

Thanksgiving may be the peak day for home cooking fires, but that's followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.