Keep your holidays from going up in flames

by Master Sgt. Edward J. Seeley Sr.
86th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Prevention

For most of us, the holiday season represents a time for family festivities, good cheer and newly practiced traditions. What few of us consider to realize is that the holiday season is a time of year when there is an increased risk of home fires.

According to the Ramstein Fire & Emergency Services flight, many households engage in holiday activities that serve as some of the leading causes of U.S. home fires, especially cooking. Christmas trees, candle usage and holiday decorations also significantly contribute to the seasonal causes of home fires. Add to that the hectic nature of the holidays, when people are trying to accomplish multiple tasks at one time, and the chance for home fires grows even more.

“As everyone gets busier during the holidays, we often become rushed, distracted or tired,” said Heinz Steiner, Ramstein Fire & Emergency Services flight senior fire inspector. “That’s when home fires are more likely to occur.”

The modern Christmas tree originated during the Renaissance of early modern Germany. Today it is called the “Weihnachtsbaum,” “Christbaum” or “Tannenbaum.”

Despite the tree’s origin, according to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments annually respond to an average of 250 structure fires caused by Christmas trees.

Fortunately, Ramstein and the surrounding communities have a much lower incidence. Nearly half of the fires are caused by electrical problems, and one in four resulted from a heat source that’s too close to the tree.

The Ramstein Fire & Emergency Services flight offers the following advice for picking, placing and lighting your Christmas tree:

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.

• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree — a popular tradition from the 18th century.

• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

• If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.

• After Christmas, get rid of the live tree. Dry trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage or placed outside the home.

• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory (UL/FM), and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.

• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit and is at least three feet away from any heat source, such as fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.

• If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched. Before placing it in the stand, cut one to two inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.

In the 18th century, Christmas trees began to be illuminated by candles, which were ultimately replaced by Christmas lights after the advent of electricity. If that’s not enough, consider this: Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. One in six (17 percent) occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree.

Staff Sgt. Edwin B. Ketcham, fire prevention inspector, said KMC residents should consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles but with reduced risk. However, if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where two of five U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep.

Lastly, never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle; use common sense, Ketcham said.Fortunately, with a little added awareness and some minor adjustments to holiday cooking and decorating, the season can remain festive and safe for everybody.

“By taking some preventative steps and following simple rules of thumb, most home fires can be prevented — especially in the kitchen,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy N. Solario, Ramstein Fire Prevention Office fire inspector.

Randall D. Marshall, Ramstein Fire & Emergency Services Flight fire chief, said the risk of fires in the household can be drastically reduced.

“The holidays can quickly turn from joyful to tragic when a fire occurs,” he said. “By taking simple precautions, people can avoid potential fire hazards and make this time of year a healthy and happy one.”

To report a fire (either ongoing or already extinguished), call 112 or 06371-47-112 immediately. For questions or concerns, fire prevention can be reached at 480-5940 or 06371-47-5940, or via email at