Public Safety

5 Ways to Prevent Winter Home Fires

Fireplace, holiday candles Image Credit: Shutterstock

The winter holidays can be bright, wonderful, and cozy, but you need to be sure to take fire-safe measures.  

Holiday decorations, including Christmas trees, were the cause of an average of 790 winter fires per year across the country between 2015 and 2019, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires caused an annual average of 1 civilian death, 26 civilian injuries, and $13 million in direct property damage.  

The San Diego County Fire Protection District offers the following safety guidance: 

1.) Keep your tree at least 3 feet from a furnace, fireplace or portable heater. 

Keep cut trees watered to prevent drying out quickly. A dry tree can burn in less than a minute. This video by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission illustrates how a dry tree can go up in flames in about 30 seconds.

After Christmas, put the tree out promptly for proper disposal or recycling to reduce the risk for fire. 

2.) Prevent electrical fires by ensuring you buy holiday lights that have been tested for safety by an independent laboratory. Check for a label.  

  • Follow directions for safety. Don’t hang indoor lights outside or vice versa.  
  • Don’t plug too many items into an electrical socket or extension cord.  
  • Don’t string together more than 3 strands of lights. 
  • Inspect your lights and don’t use damaged ones. If you do buy new lights, LED lights are more fire safe. 
  • Don’t connect LED lights and non-LED light strands.  
  • Unplug lights and your tree at night before leaving the house or going to bed.  
  • Try to buy and use flame resistant or flame retardant decorations especially when placed near lights or heat sources. 

3.) Have your chimney inspected at least once a year to check for its soundness as well as hazardous deposits or other blockages that could cause a chimney fire.

  • Never use excessive paper or flammable liquid to start a fire.
  • Use a metal or glass screen to keep embers in the fireplace opening.
  • Never leave a fire unattended or burning overnight. 

4.) Never put electric heaters near flammable items like curtains or fabrics, dry trees or garland, or decorations.

  • Never plug into an extension cord or overloaded electrical outlet.
  • If using or buying a portable heater, make sure it’s a good quality model that has been professionally tested for safety.
  • Never leave it on overnight. 

5.) Candles should only be placed on sturdy surfaces away from curtains or fabrics or where pets or children can reach them. 

  • People should also use stable candleholders. 
  • Never leave lit candles unattended.  
Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact