Fire safety tips for Christmas

A decorated tree is a must-have for most of us who enjoy celebrating Christmas. And, for those of us who enjoy a “natural Christmas,” the fragrance of pine, cedar and spruce is part and parcel of the season.

But Christmas fires are all-too-frequent.

To research some timely tips, I searched the “net” and found a helpful website at It informed me that, “Most Christmas tree fires reported are from natural products, not artificial trees. It is important to remember that natural Christmas trees are not living, and it is essential that they be kept as moist as possible. Place the base of the tree in water and re-cut the trunk of the tree at a 45 degree angle to increase water absorption”.

On this site, British Columbia Fire Commissioner Richard Dumala recommends the following guidelines to reduce the risk of a holiday fire in your home:

1. Always ensure that decorations and presents are kept well away from heat sources.

2. Always turn Christmas lights off before leaving home or going to sleep. [Also, ensure that all candles are blown out before you leave the room in which they are burning.]

3. Carefully inspect light strings cords, plugs and receptacles, and dispose of damaged items.

4. Don’t overload electrical circuits or extension cords.

5. Use only those lights which have been tested and labeled by an approved testing laboratory.

6. When you replace a bulb on a light string, ensure the voltage and/or wattage marked on the light set is compatible with the replacement light. Unplug the light string before you replace the bulb so there is no danger of shock.

7. Purchase and install working smoke alarms and practice home escape plans.

Does all of this sound just too obvious? Perhaps, but remember: although common sense is something that we all (hopefully) possess, it’s oh-so-easy to somehow set it aside when we’re excited about something. Creating a safe home environment at Christmas is imperative.

There was a horrible reminder of how fire kills in the news this past Sunday, December 16. In Burnaby, British Columbia, a house was consumed by fire. Several children died in the flames: others are severely burned, as was the desperate father who repeatedly ran into his blazing house to rescue as many children as possible. His son was hosting a sleepover: somehow the house caught on fire (electrical causes are expected) and the father was desperate to save the kids.

What a tragic story. The tragedy — and others like it — can only be mitigated somewhat if it is used as an example of what to avoid, so that others do not lose their lives or become so dreadfully injured. At time of writing, I do not know whether the fire is Christmas-related, that is whether the electrical cause was due to overloaded circuits because of lights, for instance.

However, let’s all of us take a moment to take stock of what we are personally doing for Christmas. Further points to consider are:

Is your natural tree fresh? Needles ought not to fall off the tree when you are buying it. Pick up the tree, knock the bottom of the trunk on the ground. Do needles fall from the tree? If so, don’t choose this tree, however “perfectly shaped or sized” it might appear. Get a fresher one.

Can your tree stand support the tree? Does it have a large enough reservoir to contain water? If not, procure another stand for the tree must be kept water so that it doesn’t dry out. A dry tree is a fire hazard waiting to ignite, particularly if your electric lights overheat… Remember to replenish the water daily: trees are amazingly thirsty.

Do not mount the tree beside the wood stove, space heater or any other source of heat.

Fire Places

It may seem like a preposterous question, but I’ll ask it in any case: have you cleaned your chimney this year? If you read this and have a guilty pang, take the time right now to plan on having this important chore done, immediately. Call someone in to do it, do it yourself, ask a friend, neighbour or family member to assist you. Just do it.

And, if your chimney is clean, you’re not off the hook yet. Here are timely reminders for managing your fire place during the Christmas season.

The well-named website at offers these cautions:

1. Do not burn gift wrapping, boxes, cartons or other types of packing — They burn too rapidly and generate more heat than your fireplace can handle.

2. Don’t hang stockings on the fireplace mantel when the fireplace is in use.

3. Always have a screen in front of the fireplace — This protects against flying sparks.

4. Never use gasoline or any other flammable liquids to start a fire.

5. Clean ashes regularly — put them in a metal container and store outside away from flammable materials.

6. Do not use Christmas Trees for firewood.

Have you followed all of these common-sense tips? You probably have but, if you are like me, there are one or two that are useful reminders.


Don’t forget to send me the names of deserving Pontiacers who are doing their part to build a sense of community here in our region. On that topic, I just received a delightful e-mail from Florida, from a Pontiac couple who have their Equity subscription sent there during the winter, so they can keep in touch with what’s going on. They sent me the name of someone who I’ll be mentioning in my first column in the new year.

Who do you know who is volunteering their time to benefit others? Let me know… so we can recognize those behind-the-scenes, hard workers, and their projects of an environmental, historical or community nature.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her farm north of Quyon. Contact her at