The winter holidays are traditionally happy times for families and friends to get together and create lasting memories. Unfortunately, this time of year also means a greater risk for home fires, often caused by decorations and holiday cooking.

Decorations like trees, lights and candles increase the risk of home fires during the holidays—with Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day being the top three days for home candle fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA also says that one third of home decoration fires are started by candles, and two of every five decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source.

The Red Cross wants people to stay safe from home fires—the nation’s most frequent disaster—by testing their smoke alarms and practicing their home fire escape plans this holiday season. In addition, follow these 10 simple safety tips as you deck the halls!

  1. Check all holiday light cords to make sure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together—no more than three per extension cord.
  2. If buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label. When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat.
  3. If getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh to start, and water it to keep it that way. Bend the needles up and down to make sure no needles fall off.
  4. If using older decorations, check the labels for products that may be lead-based or highly flammable.
  5. When decorating outside, make sure decorations are safe for outdoor use, and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If using hooks or nails outside, make sure they are insulated to avoid electrocution or fire hazards.
  6. If using a ladder, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.
  7. Don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.
  8. Don’t forget to turn off all holiday lights and blow out all candles before going to bed or leaving the house.
  9. Keep children, pets and decorations safely away from lit candles.
  10. If hanging stockings on the fireplace mantel, don’t light the fireplace.

This is also a time of the year when lots of time is spent in the kitchen preparing for events large and small. According to the NFPA, cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and injuries. The Red Cross advises you to be alert when cooking. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, stay away from the stove, and keep these tips in mind!

  1. Keep young children and pets at least three feet away from the stove.
  2. Move items that can burn, such as dishtowels, bags and boxes,
    away from the stove.
  3. Clean the stove and the area around it before turning on the heat.
  4. Don’t leave food on the stove unattended.
  5. Turn pot handles to the back of the stove to avoid spills.
  6. If a pan catches fire, don’t move it. Slide a pan lid or cookie sheet on top of the pan to put out the fire. Turn off the heat. Keep the lid on the pan until it cools. Never try to stop a grease or oil fire with water – it will fuel the fire.
  7. If something catches fire in the oven, keep the door closed. Call 9-1-1 so firefighters can make sure the fire didn’t spread to the walls.
  8. If a fire occurs in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave if you can. Don’t use it again until a repairman checks it.
  9. If the kitchen catches fire, make sure everyone gets out and call 9-1-1. Once outside, stay out. Never go back inside a burning building.

Smoke Detectors Save Lives!

This is a great time of year to test your smoke detectors and ensure they are installed and working properly. Smoke detectors should be installed on every floor and outside every bedroom and sleeping area in your home.
If you find that you need a smoke alarm or need your existing alarms tested, visit or call the American Red Cross Eastern New York Region at 518-694-5121 to get your alarms installed, replaced, or inspected for FREE!

The Red Cross has been working to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries through our Home Fire Campaign since October of 2014. Over the last four years, Red Cross volunteers and thousands of campaign partners have helped save many lives through the effort, and have installed more than one million smoke alarms for families all across the country.

Here in Eastern New York, Red Cross volunteers and partners have installed more than 16,000 free smoke alarms to date, resulting in at least 19 lives saved locally through this campaign. Besides following the holiday safety tips above, you can help save lives from home fires by supporting the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Get involved at!