When do millions of families bring a prickly fire hazard into their homes and surround it with blinking orbs and open flames? The holidays are filled with traditional celebrations and decorations like Christmas trees and candles.

Unfortunately QBE Regional companies General Casualty and Unigard often see an increase in fire claims during the holiday season. Property insurance experts Cindy Woodford and Jon Farris have several tips for homeowners that can help prevent a fire from ruining your festivities.

Trimming the tree

Last year more than 33 million American homes included a natural Christmas tree during the holidays and these same trees account for hundreds of fires annually, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. For example, one Unigard policyholder plugged five strings of lights into a single outlet; the resulting Christmas tree fire caused nearly $300,000 in damage.

Typically shorts in electric lights or open flames from candles or matches start the fires. Farris, homeowners assistant vice president for General Casualty, notes that if your tree is fresh and well watered and hasn’t dried out, the chances of a fire are much slimmer. A fire-resistant artificial tree is an even safer choice.

“It can be hard to tell just how old a pre-cut tree is. On a fresh tree, the needles should be hard to pull out or break, and they shouldn’t fall out when you shake it. The trunk butt should also be sticky from resin when you touch it,” says Farris.

He also advises cutting about two inches off the bottom of the trunk to help it absorb water. Most importantly, water the tree daily to keep it green longer. Placing the tree at least three feet away from heat sources like a fireplace or heat register is also recommended.


Candle fires peak during the holiday season. Many fires start when a burning candle is left unattended or placed too close to combustible decorations, like greenery or wrapping paper.

To help reduce the threat of a candle fire, Woodford, homeowners vice president for Unigard and QBE Regional insurance companies, advises keeping candles at least one foot away from other materials. Only place them in holders that are nonflammable and heat-resistant.

Also keep candles out of the bedroom. Forty percent of fires start in bedrooms, often when the flame ignites bedding or mattresses, says consumerreports.org.

The chemicals used to produce candles and wicks can also affect your health. A small percentage of wicks in older candles may contain lead. These wicks emit lead into the air when burning, increasing the risk of lead poisoning. This threat is even greater in children, and even low levels of exposures can be dangerous over time. Other petroleum chemicals used in candle wax can also cause adverse health reactions.

If you have older holiday candles among your collection of holiday decor, check the wicks for lead. Inspect the wick for a metal-core in the center or contact the manufacturer. Don’t burn the candle if you suspect the wick is lead. Soy candles are another alternative to paraffin or petroleum-based candles and have fewer health effects and are better for the environment.

Lighting up the house

Whether they flash, blink, twinkle or just shine, holiday lights are another common cause of holiday fires. To reduce the chances of an electrical fire, only use lights that have been tested for safety and contain the label of an independent testing laboratory, such as the Underwriters Laboratories. Inspect old lights for cracks, broken sockets or exposed wires and either dispose of or repair them. Invest in light-emitting diode (LED) lights for your holiday decorating. LED lights are more energy efficient and safer because they aren’t combustible like ordinary lights. Don’t leave the lights on when you’re away from home or asleep. Never use lights on a metallic tree. Faulty lights can cause electrocution. Keep lights and wires away from children.

“The last thing anyone wants to experience during the holidays is a fire,” says Woodford. “Even though this time of year can be busy and stressful, take the time to decorate and celebrate safely.” – Courtesy of ARAcontent.

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