Winter fires were more severe than average fires during the year and resulted in more injuries and more deaths, the USFA report shows.

Preparing for the Holiday Fire Season

Cooking fires and fires caused by open flame increase during the winter holiday season, the U.S. Fire Administration, insurance companies, and safety groups warn.

Winter is a season to be particularly careful about fires, starting with cooking fires, which increase during Thanksgiving celebrations, and continuing all the way through New Year's Day. The season’s many holidays increase the danger of structural fires and fires related to candles and decorations, according to studies published by the U.S. Fire Administration, insurance companies, and safety interest groups.

USFA's January 2005 report, "The Seasonal Nature of Fires," said about 5,200 Thanksgiving Day fires in 2001 and 2002 required a fire department response and caused 11 deaths, about 51 injuries, and $21 million in property losses. Cooking caused about 43 percent of those fires, with ovens and cooking ranges ranked as the leading type of equipment involved in Thanksgiving Day residential structure fires, the report states.

The report defined the winter holiday season as Dec. 1 to Jan. 7 and says each of the holidays within that period "has the potential to change the profile of fire incidence and cause." Decorations, candles, electric lights, and live Christmas trees can be involved in holiday fires; the report says both Christmas and New Year's in 2001 and 2002 experienced more than twice as many structure fires caused by open flame compared with the average day in those years.

Winter fires also were more severe than average fires during the year and resulted in more injuries and more deaths, the report shows. While cooking fires increase on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there are fewer vehicle fires on Christmas Day than the year-round daily average. The total average dollar loss from an estimated 12,600 fires on Dec. 24, 25, and 26 fires in the two years was nearly $92 million, it states.

USFA and the National Fire Protection Association now are co-sponsoring a Put a Freeze on Winter Fires campaign to raise public awareness about winter fires. "These fires are a painful reminder of what we see every year –- the temperatures drop and fires increase," said NFPA President Jim Shannon. NFPA statistics show that space heaters account for about one-third of home heating fires and approximately 80 percent of the home heating fire deaths.

USFA's Winter Residential Building Fires report says winter residential building fires occur mainly in the early evening hours, peaking from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. "The winter season brings the highest number of home fires, more than at any other time of year," said USFA Deputy Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines. "Home fires increase in part due to cooking and heating. Winter storms can also interrupt electrical service and cause people to turn to alternative heating sources that contribute to the increased risk of fire during the winter months."

It goes without saying –- but is worth repeating here nonetheless -– that deep-frying a turkey can start a fire if the chef does it wrong. A 2010 video from State Farm and the Illinois Fire Service Institute shows firefighters igniting blazes by placing a turkey in an overfilled fryer and trying to cool hot oil by adding ice.

An excellent resource about fire safety for all seasons is NFPA's blog, located at http://nfpa.typepad.com/nfpablog/. Recent posts by the staff have discussed a new FDA initiative with partner organizations to prevent surgical fires, fire safety related to Halloween, the opening of a Denver field office by the NFPA Wildland Fire Operations Division.

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