The holiday season is one of the most dangerous times of year when it comes to house fires. In fact, 1 out of every 3 residential fires happens in the months of December, January or February. And nearly 40 percent of fire fatalities fake place during that time period.

Understanding the risks

Why do the winter months bring such high rates of house fires? A big part of that risk comes from holiday lighting, décor, Christmas trees, cookware and candles.

On average, Christmas trees contribute to more than 250 fires each year, and holiday lights contribute to more than 150. December alone has the highest rates of candle fires.

Protecting your home – and your life

So how can you stay safe while enjoying the holiday season? Follow these tips to reduce your risk of a fire:

  • Use the right extension cords: Make sure the cords have the proper wattage. For outdoor lights or décor, use only cords labeled for outdoor use. Avoid “daisy chaining” (stringing multiple extension cords together). This common yet dangerous practice can overburden the cords, creating a fire and shock hazard.
  • Don’t overload your outlets: Plugging too many devices into the same outlet (for example, with multi-plug adapters) can cause dangerous overheating.
  • Use GFCI outlets for outdoor lights and décor: Ground fault circuit interrupters are critical for preventing sparks and electrical shocks in areas exposed to moisture.
  • Keep heat sources and flames a safe distance away: Make sure there’s at least three feet of space between Christmas décor and heat or flame sources. Use greater caution around wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, which can fling sparks across the room.
  • Inspect décor, lighting and cords for damage: Frayed insulation, loose wires and other damage can create a fire risk.
  • Don’t leave candles or lights unattended: It seems like common sense, but numerous fires are caused each year by unattended flames. Put out candles and turn off holiday lights whenever you go to sleep or leave the home.
  • Keep live trees well-watered: Christmas trees are fire hazards – especially when they’re dry and dropping needles. Buy only freshly cut trees, and water them daily.

Visit the Electrical Safety Foundation International for more information on fire hazards during the holidays.