By Susan Wessman

American Red Cross volunteer

It’s the time of year when Christmas is around the corner and Christmas trees are on display with blinking lights and sparkling decorations. Candles emit a soft warm glow and fireplaces crackle and pop. All is well, or is it?

On December 22, 1990, at approximately 11:10 p.m. in a living room that could be yours, a family of nine is caught unprepared when their Christmas tree catches fire. The father springs into action and attempts to drag the blazing tree out of the house. Unfortunately, he succumbs to fire and smoke inhalation and only two of the nine family members in the house make it out alive.

A fire department report of the incident noted the tree was very dry and while the lights on it were new, they were defective. The home only had one smoke alarm and the family did not have an escape plan. Tragically, some of the children tried to hide from the fire while others ran toward it.

Some common mistakes people make when faced with a home fire:

  • Losing precious time trying to remove the burning item from the house instead of evacuating your family.
  • Not evacuating immediately. The larger the family, the longer it takes to evacuate and time is lost in attempting to extinguish a fire.
  • Not having evacuation plan. Create one and practice it. Make sure your children know what to do in the event of a fire and not go towards it or get under a bed.

Holiday fire safety facts and tips:

  • One out of three house fires are caused by an electrical problem.
  • One in every 31 Christmas tree fires results in death. Christmas tree fires are not common but when they happen they are serious and can be deadly.
  • Christmas trees placed too close to a heat source causes one in four Christmas tree fires.
  • Candle fires quadruple on Christmas Day and start mainly in a bedroom.
  • Candles should be kept 12 inches from things that can burn. Candles that use batteries are safer.
  • December is the peak time of year for home candle fires.
  • A fireplace fire can start from discarded wrapping paper thrown near a fireplace.
  • Do not link more than three strands of Christmas lights together.
  • Check Christmas lights for fraying and damage before being plugged in.

Finally, always remember to GET OUT! Don’t waste time trying to put it out. A Christmas tree can go up in flames in less than 15 seconds. A well-watered tree vs a dry tree:



Department of Homeland Security

United States Fire Administration

National Fire Data Center

National Fire Protection Association

A special thanks to Fire Fighter Jason January, Huntsville, TX, for the information he provided for this article.