Fire Safety Tips in the Winter
As the mercury drops, the risk of house fires rises. The rate of house fires peaks in December and January, and the Red Cross suggests that they most commonly occur in the evenings between 6 and 7 PM. The holiday season comes with an increased reliance on electricity and heating. As temperatures dip and we fill our homes with holiday decorations and spend more time in the kitchen, it makes sense that fire risks naturally increase.
The frightening thing is that not only are house fires becoming more common across the board, they may also be getting more dangerous. Modern houses are constructed using considerably more synthetic materials than they used to. These materials burn faster, allowing the fire to spread quickly and reducing the time available to escape safely.
Not only do fires put you and your family in danger, they often lead to devastating loss of property. You can always make a fire insurance claim if you suffer a loss, but the fire insurance claim process is stressful, slow, and can still leave you paying some expenses out of pocket.
Follow these fire safety tips for the season and be proactive against having to file a house fire insurance claim in the first place. During higher risks seasons like the holidays, it’s always a good idea to take extra precautions for the safety of your family and your home.
#1 Pay Attention in the Kitchen
Unattended cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires. When the holidays arrive we spend more time in the kitchen preparing baked treats and big family feasts that can take hours, if not the whole day.
First, always pay attention when you’re cooking. Don’t leave anything unattended on the stove or in the oven when you’re actively cooking. But the kitchen houses other fire hazards as well, such as spilling flammable vegetable oils; leaving towels, oven mitts, plastic, or cardboard too close to sources of heat; overloading electrical outlets with gadgets; and setting temperatures too high (igniting the food itself).
It’s also a good idea to keep small children out of the kitchen while you’re working on a big holiday feast. They can be distracting and reach for things they shouldn’t.
#2 Don’t Drink and Cook
Because the risks of kitchen fires are so high, you may also want to keep a cool head while you’re cooking. While it’s difficult to find data on how many fires are caused by cooking while impaired, it’s enough for many fire departments across Canada to warn against the dangers. When you’re preparing a big family dinner, consider saving the next glass of wine for when it’s time to eat and enjoy.
#3 Be Careful with Space Heaters
Space heaters are another leading cause of accidental fire as the weather gets cold. They’re often the culprit of fires in older homes or apartments where the heating or insulation isn’t great, and people feel the need for extra heating. In the U.S., fires started by space heaters were responsible for 86 percent of the deaths in fire incidents.
Always plug the heater directly into the wall, and never use a power bar or extension cord. Don’t turn a space heater on and forget about it. Equally important: don’t leave combustible materials near the space heater. Anything within 3 feet of the unit can catch fire, so clear a wide path and make sure you turn the heater off before you go to bed. Never leave heaters running all night.
#4 Don’t Let Christmas Trees Dry Out
If you use a real Christmas tree in your home for the holiday season, letting it dry out can render it tinder just waiting to ignite. There are a few things you can do to keep your tree fresh and mitigate the fire risks:
- Put it in water right away and check the water level daily and replenish as needed;
- Place the tree far from major heat sources, including fireplaces, vents, radiators, stoves, and even south-facing windows, as these will dry the tree out faster; and
- Keep the tree at least three feet away from any heat sources that could cause the tree to ignite.
#5 Overburdened Outlets
Between the holiday lights and having guests stay over (charging their phones and plugging in their beauty tools), your outlets can quickly become crowded. Electrical shorts are responsible for about half of all residential fires. It can be hard to keep an eye on how crowded outlets get in the chaos of the holidays, so you may want to invest in an arc-fault circuit interrupter, which will break the electrical circuit when it detects an electrical arc that could begin a fire.
Candles are a year-round culprit for residential flames, and it’s easy to see why. Live flames can easily catch curtains, carpets, Christmas trees, décor, and stray papers. When you use candles, keep them at least a foot away from flammable objects, and always use sturdy, stout candle holders.
Managing the Aftermath of a Fire
Regardless of how careful we can be, or how many preventative measures we take: accidents still happen, and fire can damage your home at any time. Working with an experienced professional can help manage the stress of dealing with a loss. We are experts in residential loss negotiations and help you navigate filing your claim, understanding your homeowners insurance policy, learning about what your policy entitles you to, and generally dealing with the insurance company.
You should also consider making changes to your homeowners insurance after a fire claim that will reflect the new state of your home and its contents. There are several reasons to update your homeowners insurance after the fact, including but not limited to major culling and/or upgrading of household contents, bylaw and upgrade changes to the value of the structure, or simply learning that your old policy wasn’t sufficient to cover you against the loss.
Be safe and fire conscious during the winter season. The last thing you, your loved ones, and your neighbors need to add to your holidays is a fire insurance dispute. Take a few precautionary steps and avoid fire damage to your home altogether.