How Christmas decorations cause house fires: What to know

Between 2015 and 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 790 home fires per year that started with holiday decorations, according to a report from the National Fire Protection Association, a leading fire resource.

Fires caused by holiday decorations, excluding Christmas trees, resulted in an annual average of one death, 26 fire injuries and $13 million in direct property damage.

More than two of every five decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source, according to the report.

The most common cause of holiday decoration fires: candles. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, December is the peak month for candle fires and Christmas is the peak day.

Candles contributed to more than one third of home decoration fires, 90 deaths, 670 injuries and $291 million in direct property damage within the four years.

The other common holiday decoration fire starters include:

  • Cooking
  • Electrical distribution and lighting equipment
  • Heating equipment
  • Intentional
  • Smoking materials

Here’s what you need to know about how to avoid home fires during the holidays including tips on holiday decorations, fire hazards and guest smokers, according to the NFPA:

  • Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with a worn or broken cross or loose bulbs connections.
  • Read manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands to connect.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
  • Keep children and pets away from lit candles.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside and to keep their materials with them so young children do not touch them.
  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet smoking butts with water before discarding.
  • Blow out lit candles when you leave the room or go to bed.
  • Turn off all light strings and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

For more tips on winter holiday fire safety, visit the NFPA’s safety tip guide.

Christmas tree fires

While holiday decoration contributed to a large sum of holiday fires, so did Christmas trees.

Within the four years, Christmas trees started 160 U.S. home fires per year causing an average of two deaths, 12 injuries and $10 million in direct property damage.

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in almost half of the home Christmas tree fires.

And nearly one in five Christmas tree fires were started by decorative lights. In nearly one fifth of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.

Here’s what you need to know about picking, placing, lighting and the aftercare of your Christmas to avoid a home fire, according to the NFPA:


  • Choose a tree with fresh green needles that do not fall off when touched.


  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut two inches from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source including fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the base of the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.


  • Use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.


  • Get rid of the tree when it’s dry because dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home, garbage or placed outside against the home.
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards.

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Brianna Taylor is a reporter on The Sacramento Bee’s utility desk. A former Bee intern, Brianna also reported in Missouri and Maryland. She is a graduate of Morgan State University.