Keep hearths clear to avoid igniting decorations.

Unattended lights and candles, over-stoked fireplaces boost holiday fire danger

It's a heartbreaking statistic that mars one of the happiest times of year: Nationally, fire deaths, injuries, and property losses spike by 50% on Christmas Eve and 61% on Christmas Day. It turns out the very trappings meant to bring joy to the season also unwittingly bring danger into our homes.

To keep your holidays bright and safe, PEMCO recommends you:

  • Unplug holiday lights when you're away or install a timer to turn them off automatically. In a PEMCO Poll, 20% of respondents admitted to leaving lights plugged in even when they leave home.
  • Discard light strings at the first sign of trouble, like intermittent outages, tiny cracks in the wires, or frayed cords. Consider replacing strings every couple of years – older lights are more likely to spark a fire than lights fresh out of the box. LED lights make a great replacement choice – they're much more energy-efficient and burn cooler.
  • Heed warning labels to avoid overloading outlets.
  • Burn candles only when you're in the room and awake. Use metal or glass holders and keep them well away from other holiday decorations. In a PEMCO Poll, 17% of homeowners with children in the house said they don't always use noncombustible holders. December is the peak month for candle fires. Consider battery-powered artificial candles as an alternative.
  • Don't burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. Paper – with its low moisture content and large surface area – burns hot and fast with a high flame, potentially leading to chimney fires. Paper embers tend to float up the chimney and can land on your roof while still ablaze. Gift wrapping also can contain pigments that are toxic when burned.
  • Get your chimney professionally cleaned every year if you burn more than half a cord of wood annually. (In a PEMCO Poll, 41% of respondents said they “rarely or never” clean their chimneys to remove creosote, a flammable byproduct of wood burning that's responsible for nine out of every 10 chimney fires.) Or, for a low-maintenance option, consider converting your wood-burning fireplace to gas or propane.