The festive season is a busy time for many people. Christmas shopping, entertaining friends and family, and going to pubs and parties leaves us with little time to think about things like home fire safety.

This could be dangerous as figures suggest accidental dwelling fires are typically higher during the festive season than at other times of the year.

Statistics provided by West Yorkshire Fire Service are representative of the UK as a whole: in 2011, there were 115 fires in December and 119 in January – the two months with the highest number of fires during the whole year. Whilst in 2012 the number of accidental dwelling fires in West Yorkshire peaked in March (109), December and January were the second and third worst months for home blazes with 106 and 104 respectively.

Home fire safety is of course very important all year round, but Christmas brings particular dangers of which you should be aware.

Check your fire alarms

You should have a fire alarm installed on all levels of your house – and it is important to check they are working properly by testing them every week, and replacing batteries if necessary. In the event of a fire an alarm will give you early warning of a blaze and provide you with valuable time to escape from your property.

Your local fire and rescue service may be able to provide and install smoke detectors in your home for free.

Book a free Home Fire Safety Check with your local service and firefighters will visit your house and offer advice and guidance on fire prevention. If they assess your home as being particularly at risk, they will install smoke detectors and show you how to use and maintain them.

To book a visit, simply search online for your local service (for example by searching for “West Yorkshire Home Fire Safety Check”), then fill in the form or give them a call and book a visit.

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 Be careful when cooking

We tend to prepare a lot of food at home over Christmas and as the majority of house fires start in the kitchen, it is very important to pay careful attention when cooking. Do not leave cooking unattended, and double check that all cooking appliances are switched off when you have finished in the kitchen.

Many of us enjoy a drink at Christmas, but you should avoid cooking when you have been drinking alcohol. You are more likely to make careless mistakes and even forget about lit hobs when under the influence of alcohol.

Chip pans in particular are a major cause of home fires, with more than 30% of chip pan blazes taking place between 10pm and 4am, according to the London Fire Brigade. It is suspected that many are caused by late night cooking whilst under the influence of alcohol.

Don’t leave candles unattended

Candles are a great way of creating a festive atmosphere, but they are also a major fire risk – especially with many homes being filled with decorations, greetings cards, and wrapping paper at Christmas. Dry Christmas trees are also a fire hazard – check out the shocking video below for evidence of just how flammable dry trees can be:

Never leave candles unattended or use them when you are under the influence of alcohol. Keep candles away from decorations and cards, and if you have a real Christmas tree make sure it is well watered. Keep matches and other combustibles safely out of the reach of children – ideally in a safety cabinet.

Check your Christmas lights

BSI Kitemark
BSI Kitemark

Many people enjoy decorating their homes with lights at Christmas and it is very important to check that they are safe and will not start a blaze. This is particularly true if you are using old lights which may have lower safety standards, and lights purchased second hand or from less reputable shops.

You should buy your lights from a trustworthy store and always check that the packaging has safety marks. The BSI Kitemark, for example, means that the product has been independently tested and it conforms to the relevant British Standard (BS EN 60598). The lights may also carry a CE mark, which is a manufacturer’s claim that the product meets all the requirements of the European legislation.

Never leave lights on unattended and switch them off and unplug them when you go to bed.  For more safety advice about Christmas lights check out a useful guide written by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

Don’t overload plug sockets

Our use of electrical devices tends to increase at Christmas, and when we don’t have enough spare sockets it can be all too easy to overload power points. Overloaded sockets risk overheating, which can cause fires – ideally, you should only use one plug per socket. If you have many appliances to power it is possible to use extension leads or sockets, but if you do you should also be careful not to overload them. You must not plug in devices that together use more than 13 amps or 3000 watts of energy.

Use this handy socket overload calculator to find out whether you are plugging in too many devices and risking a fire.

Prepare and plan an escape route

It is important to plan for the worst and know in advance how you would escape from your house in the event of a fire. Select an appropriate escape route and make sure that it is clear at all times, so that you are not trapped should a blaze break out.

To protect valuables like jewellery, important documents, and precious photos it is a very good idea to invest in a fire safe. Experts say that a 60 minute rated fire safe is sufficient for a normal house fire.

Stub out your cigarette

If you smoke, then check carefully that cigarettes are fully extinguished once you have finished them. It is also sensible to take particular care when smoking whilst drinking alcohol or tired, because falling asleep with a lit cigarette risks setting clothing or furniture alight.

By taking common-sense precautions like the ones given above you can drastically reduce the risk of a home fire this festive season, allowing you and your loved ones to enjoy a safe and happy Christmas.

Do you have any more festive fire safety tips? Do let us know in the comments below.

Image used under the Creative Commons licence.
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