Nailing It Down — Christmas candles, trees and celebrations can cause fires

There’s a cruel irony each year that firefighters see: Some of the very things that we use to celebrate the holiday season can cause a fire or injury.

We don’t want to put a damper on your Christmas spirit, but we know that a house fire would be much worse on your spirits than a sobering preventative word from us.


“Fires from candles — both decorating for the holidays and being a source of light during a power outage — can be a hazard,” said Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard. “We’ve been to many fires started by an unattended candle or a candle on an unstable surface.”

“When the power goes out — as it often does during the winter months — people often put a candle in each room, leaving candles unattended. In addition to getting into the hands of a curious or “helpful” child, watch out for your cats. Whiskers can leap up on top of a dresser and knock over an otherwise stable candle,” Hubbard said.

The statistics witness to his concern:

• The top five days for candle fires — Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, Halloween and Dec. 23.

• On average, 42 residential fires each day are caused by candles.

• More than 50 percent of candle-related fires are caused by flammable materials such as furniture, bedding, mattresses, curtains or decorations too close to the candle.

• More than one-third of candle fires start in the bedroom.

• Falling asleep with a candle burning resulted in 12 percent of the fires and 36 percent of the 166 deaths related to candle fires each year.

• The risk of a fatal candle fire is higher when candles are used for light.


Here are some safety tips for candle use:

• Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.

• If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders, placed where they cannot be easily knocked down.

• Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.

• Keep burning candles out of reach of children and pets.

• Never put candles on a Christmas tree.

• Never use a candle where medical oxygen is being used.

• Never leave a room or go to bed with candles burning.

• Whenever possible use a flashlight or battery-operated lantern for emergency lighting instead of candles.


While an artificial tree is statistically safer, if you do choose a live tree, the good news is that living where we do, it’s easy to get one that is very fresh.

It’s key to start with a fresh tree, then re-cut the bottom. Giving it plenty of water from the beginning all the way through to its last day of glory will make a difference in not only how long it looks good, but also how safe it is!


Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace, wood stove or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful to keep candles, cigarettes and other flames far from the tree.


It’s hard to think about now, but in less than a month, most people will be taking their tree down.

When it’s time to dispose of your tree, never put branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.


All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents and other sources of heat.

As you move things around to accommodate the tree, extra company or large parties, remember to never block an exit way. In the event of a fire, time is of the essence. A blocked exit way puts you, your family and friends at risk. All families should have at least two was out of each room.


Of course, make sure you have working smoke detectors on every level of your house. And, as we mentioned in a recent column, if you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector yet, it’s time to buy one!


As you have the opportunities to unwrap gifts, make sure to never put wrapping paper in the fireplace. It can result in a very large fire that throws off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.

In addition, Chief Hubbard says at least in Aberdeen it is against burning regulations to dispose of cardboard, wrapping paper and Christmas trees by burning them outside.

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, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, or 1-866-533-7828, or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.