The Dangers of Decorations

(Reprint of article by
Pam Miller, Snohomish County Fire Marshal)

‘Tis the season! Christmas. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. Festival of Lights. Yes, this holiday period is a time of great celebration, tradition, beauty and…danger.

All those Yule logs, menorahs, votive candles, luminaries, tree ornaments and holiday greens may be time-honored decorative touches. But they also can be accidents waiting to happen. And happen they do, every holiday season. Asphyxiations. Chokings. Poisonings. And house fires.

"Major factors that increase the risk of fire in the home during the holidays are defective decorative lights and careless use of candles and fireplaces," says Snohomish County Fire Marshal Pam Miller.

Candles are of particular concern this year because of their growing popularity, not only for decorative uses but also for aromatherapy and spiritual practices. The National Candle Association reports candles sales have grown by 10-15 percent yearly during the past decade. Candles are used in seven out of every 10 U.S. households.

That increased use has resulted in increased misuse. In the 1980s, candles were responsible for 1.1 percent of home structure fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 1997, that figure had jumped to 2.9 percent, causing 11,600 fires, 156 deaths and more than $171-million in property damage.

Historically, there are twice as many home candle fires in December as there are in an average month. Candles cause 43 percent of all home decoration fires.

A graphic case in point occurred the evening of December 2, when an unattended candle ignited a Bremerton home and took the lives of two teenaged girls.

"This is a big potential problem this year," says Miller. "The sad thing is all these fires are preventable. Three-quarters of candle fires occur because candles are left unattended and 40 percent are caused by combustibles too close to the candle."



Here are some tips for safe enjoyment of candles this holiday season:






Unlit candles are much safer than lit candles. But if you do light your candles, make sure they are placed in stable holders or on a trivet. Always put candles on a level surface where they cannot be easily knocked over.

Unfortunately, candles aren’t the only cause of seasonal house fires. Here are some safety tips for other types of holiday decorations:


      Outdoor Lights




      Indoor Lights



          Tree Ornaments

          Wreaths and Greens



             Other Decorations


Finally, make sure—as you should every season—that you have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home. Test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And remember to practice your home escape plan.



If you have to report a fire, medical emergency, or have any questions about fire prevention, please DO NOT hesitate to contact the: 





Emergency Number: 9-1-1

Business/Questions: 781-592-1000



your areas local Fire Department.




Credit for article: 
Pam Miller, Snohomish County Fire Marshal, (425) 388-3557, ext. 2780; Wayne Lee, Public Involvement, (425) 388-3789