The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

December 23, 2010
On Your Guard: You can help prevent holiday house fires

Fire agency and insurance company officials urge safety precautions to prevent fires during the holidays and winter months.

State Farm Insurance reports that one-third of home fires and home fire deaths occur during December, January and February. California ranked fourth nationally in the number of Christmas Day fire and smoke-related claims for 2005-09.

To avoid fires:

• Pay attention to the stove. Cooking is one of the top causes of home holiday fires, usually from unattended cooking.

• Keep flammable materials at least 3 feet from space heaters, wood-burning stoves and other heating devices. Heating equipment ranks second as a cause of household fires.

• Make sure candles are in stable holders and placed where they can't be easily toppled. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials suggest using battery-operated candles instead of traditional candles, noting that they are safer, last longer and don't spill melted wax on the furniture.

• Inspect holiday lights for frayed wires, bare spots or broken sockets, and remember to turn them off before leaving home or going to bed.

• Don't overload electrical outlets for holiday lights.

• When keeping a live Christmas tree indoors, make sure the needles are fresh and green, and that the tree has plenty of water.

• Never burn trash or paper in a fireplace. Burning paper can float up the chimney onto the roof, or a neighbor's roof, causing a fire. Remove ashes from the fireplace in a metal container and allow them to cool outdoors for at least 24 hours before disposing of them.

For more information on fire safety, see the Cal Fire website at

- Cathy Locke

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