"Most wonderful time of year" is also most dangerous at home

Even though it’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” as far as safety in your house goes, it’s the most dangerous.

The combination of all the extra changes in the holidays — more large gatherings, holiday lights, candles, Christmas trees and all that extra cooking and baking — home fire risk is at its highest. Then, add the cold weather, and people needing to stay warm using heaters that haven’t been used for months or chimneys that need to be cleaned, and you add more risk of fire. The good news is with just a little time and care the risks can be greatly reduced.


Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard and Assistant Chief Rich Malizia gave us some insight on what we can do to stay safe. They also passed along some facts from the U.S. Fire Administration.

Here are some facts about home holiday fires:

• One-third of Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems.

• Christmas tree fires are not common, but when they do occur they are very dangerous with one in 40 reported resulting in a death.

• About one in six tree fires are caused by having the tree too close to a heat source.

• December is the peak time for home candle fires.

• Some 56 percent of home candle fires start when something that can catch on fire (think decorations) is too close to the candle.

• Cooking is the leading cause of all winter home fires.

• Between 5 to 8 p.m. is the most common time for winter home fires.

• Unattended cooking is by far the leading contributing factor in home cooking fires.

• Frying poses the greatest risk of fire.


With this latest cold snap, many folks lit a cozy fire in their fireplace. Nationwide nearly 12 percent of house fires are chimney fires — here it may be even higher.

“You need to have your chimney cleaned by someone once a year,” said Hubbard.

While some folks may think, “It’s only a chimney fire, it will burn itself out,” Malizia warns against that kind of thinking. “A chimney fire can burn so hot that it cracks or damages your liner. If it does damage the liner, and there are cracks in the masonry of the chimney, there is potential to have a structure fire — either right then or later — especially in older homes,” he said.

One of the reasons the Aberdeen Fire Department averages more than one significant house fire a month is that the average year homes were built in Aberdeen is 1938. It’s possible that in other parts of the county the homes are even older, he added.

Many of the older homes on the Harbor are built with “balloon construction,” which allows fire to quickly burn inside walls, or constructed with other old-fashioned techniques and materials that mean a fire can burn more quickly than it would in new construction.


As long as we’re talking about fireplaces, Malizia reminds us that wrapping paper, junk mail, etc., is never appropriate to burn in your fireplace or wood stove. All of that needs to be recycled or thrown away.

“Wrapping paper in a fireplace can cause can cause a chimney fire because it can float up into the chimney,” Malizia said. “The only thing you should burn in your wood stove is wood.”


In commercial buildings, hand-held fire extinguishers are inspected annually. How old is the one you have at home? If it’s more than a couple years old, you should have it checked or replaced.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to use a fire extinguisher, maybe you can take the opportunity to take yours outside and pull the pin and aim to get a feel of how one works.

Then get rid of the old one and buy yourself a new one. While you’re at the store, consider getting a fire extinguisher as a gift for an older relative, friend or that “someone who has everything.”

Of course, the fire officials said, only combat a very small fire, for others, call the fire department, get all the occupants out of the house and don’t go back in.


An appropriately placed, well-watered Christmas tree is not a great fire hazard. Keep yours watered every day.


We’ve also been talking to the folks at the PUD and plan to share some tips about generators and what to do in a power outage.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.


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