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Holiday Fire Safety

The winter holidays are typically a time for family gatherings and celebrations, and that means more cooking, home decorating, entertaining, and an increased risk of fire due to the use of heating equipment.


  • Place candles in non-tip candle holders on a sturdy, stable surface where they can’t easily be knocked over.
  • Keep candles away from curtains and out of the reach of small children.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended and always blow them out before you go to bed or leave the house.

Holiday Decorations

  • Keep decorations away from heat sources like fireplaces, space heaters, heat vents, lights and candles.
  • Never burn discarded wrapping paper in a fireplace. It can throw off dangerous sparks, emit toxic fumes, or fly up through your chimney and cause a fire on your roof or outside your home.
  • Choose decorations made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials.

Holiday Lights

  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.
  • Always unplug lights before replacing light bulbs or fuses.
  • Only use lights bearing the UL label.
  • Don’t mount lights in any way that can damage the cord’s wire insulation, use clips rather than nails.
  • When you go out at night or turn in for the evening, turn your holiday lights off.
  • Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets or extension cords.
  • Never run extension cords under carpets, across doorways or near heaters.
  • Be sure all electrical wiring isn’t pinched behind or under furniture.
  • Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.

Holiday Trees

When selecting a fresh cut tree to celebrate the holidays remember these fire safety suggestions:​

  • Be sure your tree has a constant supply of water – check the water level daily.
  • Make certain that the tree has not started drying out and is shedding it’s needles.
  • The trunk of a fresh tree should be sticky to the touch and be sure to trim off the bottom one inch of the tree right before placing it in the water filled stand.
  • This will remove the dried end and allow the tree to absorb water.
  • Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.
  • Keep your tree away from heat sources such as candles, fireplaces and heaters.
  • Never use candles to decorate your tree.
  • When placing your tree, select a spot that won’t block access to exit doors and escape windows.
  • When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly.
  • 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.
  • If your preference is an artificial tree, be certain that it has the proper label indicating that it is flame retardant. Although the tree may be flame retardant, the decorations on it and the packages beneath it are not. Remember to practice good fire safety, even with an artificial tree. Watch a video on how fast a holiday tree fire can spread. 

Fireplace Safety

  • Keep fireplace fires small, and use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from flying out.
  • Chimney fires are quite common and can spread to other parts of your house.
  • You should have the fireplace/chimney inspected at least once a year and cleaned when necessary.
  • A dirty fireplace can cause chimney fires and inhibit proper venting of smoke up the flue.
  • Combustibles placed too close to the fireplace can ignite.
  • Be sure to keep the area near the fireplace clear of anything that can burn.
  • When cleaning out your fireplace, be sure to place the used ashes in a non-combustible container, like a steel bucket or metal garbage can and soak them with water.
  • Do not dispose of ashes in a paper bag, cardboard box, or a plastic container.
  • Fireplace ashes can retain enough heat to start a fire days after they have been discarded, so make sure they are well away from all combustible items.


  • As always, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them at least once a month, keep them clean and equipped with new batteries at all times.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Practice your home escape plan, especially if you’ve moved furniture or otherwise changed your path of escape.
  • Know when and how to call for help.

All of us here at the San Mateo Consolidated Fire Department wish you a happy and safe holiday season!

Happy Holidays!