BCAA: Don’t let your holiday celebrations go up in smoke

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December, 2010 – Candles, trees and decorations add warmth to our holiday celebrations, but can also heat up the risk of a house fire if not handled properly. During this holiday season, the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA) urges homeowners and renters to take the proper precautions to reduce the risk of a fire and protect their families and belongings from tragedy.

“Serious fire hazards are often unknowingly created around the house as candles, fireplaces, holiday lights and highly flammable decoration items such as trees and ornaments are used to set a festive mood,” says Brooke Moss, BCAA Home Insurance product manager. “And, the hurried pace of the season adds to the potential of a fire mishap as many people become distracted around the house while cooking and entertaining.”

BCAA’s rate of residential fire-related insurance claims increases during the holidays, adds Moss. December is the second busiest month for fire claims next to July.

To reduce the risk of a holiday fire, homeowners and renters are urged to heed basic safety tips: never leave an open flame or stove in use unattended; and before leaving home or going to sleep, always turn off holiday lights and extinguish candles and fireplaces. BCAA also recommends the following:

Trees and decorations

  • Fresh or artificial, put the tree in a sturdy stand. Place trees out of the way of traffic and away from heat sources and exits. Water a fresh tree daily to prevent it from drying out and becoming increasingly flammable.
  • If you purchase an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire-retardant. Choose holiday decorations made with flame-retardant or non-combustible materials.


  • Indoors or outside, only use lights that have been tested and approved for safety by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. Ensure outdoor lights are certified for outdoor use. Never staple through light strings or extension cords.
  • Check holiday lights for broken sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Dispose of damaged sets. Consider using newer lights that have thicker wiring and safety fuses.


  • Keep lit candles away from: anything that could ignite such as trees, curtains and decorations; windows and drafts; locations where they can get knocked over.
  • Never leave a child or pet unattended in a room with a candle. Keep candles, matches and lighters up high or locked away, and out of the reach of children.
  • Be wary of novelty candles surrounded by flammable paint, paper or dried flowers. Place candles firmly in candle holders that are sturdy and are meant to hold hot wax.
  • Avoid using plastic or wood candle holders which can easily melt or catch fire. Glass holders can get too hot and burn fingers, or even break. Metal candle holders are safer.
  • Keep candle wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch, and extinguish candles when they’re within two inches of the holder.


  • Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace as it can ignite suddenly and burn intensely, resulting in a flash fire. Never light a fireplace or wood stove with any combustible fluids.
  • Use a metal spark screen that covers the entire fireplace opening to prevent sparks from igniting nearby flammable materials. Keep wrapped gifts and trees away from fireplaces.
  • Store ashes outside in a covered metal container, well away from buildings, grass and bushes.

Holiday cooking and entertaining

  • Keep an eye on the range or other cooking appliances when in use. Pay close attention not to accidentally place flammable objects such as oven mitts or dish rags on stove tops.
  • If there are smokers around your home, provide plenty of large, deep ashtrays. Douse cigarette butts with water before discarding or flush them down the toilet.

BCAA also advises that at least one fire extinguisher be kept inside the home, smoke detector batteries are checked regularly and families practice home escape plans. Homeowners and renters are also encouraged to consult their insurance advisor to ensure their home and/or belongings are adequately covered in the unfortunate case of a fire.

About BCAA

The British Columbia Automobile Association is an affiliate of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) and American Automobile Association (AAA), serving members in British Columbia and the Yukon. Visit www.bcaa.com.