7 Common Causes of Winter House Fires, According to Fire Safety Experts
Christmas lights and dryers should be watched closely in order to avoid a winter fire in your home.
While house fires occur year-round, they're most common in the fall and winter. "Because it's cold, people spend a lot more time indoors," Simon Young, a fire investigator, told NRMA Insurance. "They're using more appliances and more equipment, and that can then have the potential to cause more fires." But most of the time, these winter house fires are easily preventable. From cooking mishaps to Christmas tree lights, these are the most common causes of house fires to be aware of during the coldest season of the year.
When's the last time you cleaned the lint out of your dryer? If you're thinking about it, it's been too long. According to Rockford Mutual, dryer fires are incredibly common in the fall and winter, with around 3,000 occurring each year. Leaving a build-up of lint in the dryer filter prevents your machine from releasing heat properly, which can cause a fire. That's why you should always clean it out between uses and never leave the dryer running when you're not home.
Having a Christmas tree can be dangerous if you're not smart about your lighting. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one in four cases of Christmas tree fires is due to electrical problems, such as using too many light strands or using lights that are too worn out or have loose bulb connections. Also, be sure to keep heat sources away from your tree—and always turn the lights off before going to sleep or leaving the house.
Anyone who gets cold easily probably considers their space heater to be like a trusted friend. But sometimes your warmth-providing buddy can cause trouble. According to 2018 data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters account for 43 percent of all U.S. home heating fires. Most of the time, the fire occurs due to a space heater being too close to upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses, bedding, or other items that can easily catch on fire (like your Christmas tree, as you now know).
If you're going to use a space heater in your home, the NFPA says to place it at least three feet away from anything that can burn and to turn it off when you're sleeping or not nearby.
It's no surprise that the U.S. Fire Administration says cooking is the leading cause of house fires, as well as house fire injuries. And when it's cold outside, we tend to cook more homemade meals than normal—especially around the holidays. “There are three times more cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day than any other average day during the year,” said Jim Pauley, NFPA president, in the organization’s Thanksgiving safety video.
To stay safe, make sure you're always in the kitchen while cooking and that anything that can catch fire—like towels, paper towels, and pot holders—is far away from the stove. And whatever you do, avoid using super-dangerous turkey fryers to help ensure everyone's safety and wellbeing.
Your favorite candles might make your entire house smell like vanilla or sugar cookies, but it's important to remember that they can also be serious fire hazards. "Candles are popular, but they're also a cause of home fires and home fire deaths,” Lisa Braxton, the NFPA’s public education project manager, said in one of the organization’s videos. “Let's not forget—a candle is an open flame.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, candles are responsible for two out of every five home decoration structure fires. And the top three days for candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year's Day. So, if you do light candles, the NFPA says to make sure that they're at least a foot away from anything that can burn, and that you blow them out anytime you're not in the room or you're sleeping.
Rockford Mutual says smoking materials—including cigarettes, pipes, and cigars—were responsible for 17,200 home fires in the U.S. in 2014. That's why smoking indoors should always be avoided, even when it's cold outside. And who knows, maybe having to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures is what will finally help smokers kick that bad habit for good.
Did you know that when you lose power as a result of a winter storm, your risk of having a house fire can increase? That's because it makes you rely on alternative heating equipment, which causes one in every five house fire deaths every year, according to the NFPA. It also requires you to lean more heavily on portable generators, which can also be potential fire hazards.