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December 18, 2018
It’s that time of year again: Time to deck the halls, trim the tree (or light the menorah), and check the smoke detectors. But seriously. Fires in the home are most common during the winter months, and fires from candles or trees are particularly dangerous.

First things first: Test your smoke alarm. If you have carbon monoxide detectors, you want to test those too. Double check that trees, menorahs, candlesticks, fabric, paper, and anything else flammable is at least three feet away from all heaters, stoves, and fireplaces at all times.

Christmas trees

The Red Cross recommends you buy an aluminum or plastic tree, but we know they’re just not the same as the real thing. When picking out a real tree, bend the needles. They should bend without snapping in half. Then give the tree a shake and see how many needles fall off (it shouldn’t be many). Finally, give it a sniff. Depending on the type of tree, you should get a piney fresh scent.

Give your tree a lot of water, top it up at least once a day, and try to keep a gallon of water in the stand at all times. Keep water levels above the cut. If the water line dips below the cut for too long, the tree will try to heal the injury and you’ll have to make a fresh cut to ensure the tree stays hydrated.

When buying string lights, check the box and make sure it says they’re UL-listed, which just means they’ve been independently tested for safety. Throw out any strings that get hot to the touch, or that have broken bulbs or frayed wires. When plugging string lights end to end, make sure you don’t connect too many. The packaging will tell you how many you can safely connect, but the general rule of thumb is three strings, max.

Menorahs and candles

Keep a close watch on candles, or go without them entirely. The electric versions have gotten brighter and more realistic in recent years — you can even find some scented varieties. Check that candles are snug and secure in their holders; one loose candle could fall out and start a fire.

If your child comes home with a craft menorah, don’t light it. They’re usually made from paper, cardboard, glue, and other very flammable materials. Young kids shouldn’t light candles on their own. If your kids are old enough to light the menorah, take a little extra time and show them how to pull their hair back and be aware of their sleeves. You’ve been lighting candles for years and these precautions are automatic for you. But your kids may be brand new to fire safety.

In the kitchen

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Around the holidays, we’re cooking more and stress levels are heightened, so it’s extra important to be careful. Get in the habit of turning your pans so that the handles point toward the center of the stove.

If you haven’t already, make it a rule to keep potholders and towels off the stove, even when the  burners aren’t on. If you happen to turn on the wrong burner, that towel you tossed on the stove can catch fire before you even notice your mistake.

Keep kids out of the kitchen when making latkes or any other deep fried foods. Oil is especially dangerous and easy to spill. If oil does catch fire, don’t throw water on it; that could just splatter the oil and spread the fire. Instead, cover it with a lid or another pot and turn off the stove. If you don’t have a lid, your next best bet is baking soda. But be warned: It takes a lot of baking soda to extinguish a grease fire. And if all else fails, you can use a regular fire extinguisher. Just know that, depending on the chemical it uses, it can make a big mess.

With a few simple precautions, you can greatly reduce your risk of fire and enjoy a safe holiday season. Did we leave anything out? Comment below or find us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know what you and your family do to stay safe during the holidays.