As temperatures drop and Americans gear up for winter, there are some increased fire dangers that many overlook in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. If winter fire risks conjure images of charred Christmas trees or an illuminated Santa Claus and reindeer bursting into flames, you’d be missing some of the more subtle, but more common dangers. Donan’s fire experts share their insight on seasonal fire causes, special considerations when handling seasonal fires, and their most important winter fire prevention tips.
Most Common Winter Fire Causes
Auxiliary Heating Devices
“The most common fire cause during the winter months is auxiliary heating devices, such as electrical space heaters,” explains Ray Baker, CFI, CFEI, Donan’s Northeast Regional Fire Manager. “Although we see a spike in these fires in much of the country, climate definitely has a lot to do with it and the increase is more drastic in colder regions.” Cold weather together with economic factors also create an increased fire risk, explains Mark Boaz, CFI, CFEI, Donan’s Midwest Regional Fire Manager. “Because of poor economic conditions, a family may have had the gas shut off so they’re using electrical space heaters, or even more dangerously, using the oven to heat the house. Makeshift heaters are never a good idea and pose a substantial fire risk.”
Cooking & Kitchen Fires
“Cooking and kitchen fires are responsible for about 40% of all residential structure fires annually,” according to Jack Fetrow, CFI, CFEI, CVFI, General Manager of Fire Investigation Services at Donan. Although there is not generally a spike specifically during the winter months, it’s important to take the necessary safety precautions as holiday festivities often involve more people and larger meals and these can provide additional dangers as kitchens are left unattended while several items are cooking in the oven or on the stovetop at once.
A third common cause of fires during the winter months is electrical circuit overload. In fact, many Christmas decoration fires are actually the result of having too many things plugged into an electrical circuit such as a power strip, rather than the decorations themselves overheating or catching fire. “Power strips come with a rating that tells you how much load they can handle. When Christmas decorations or space heaters or whatever device or appliance is plugged in exceeds that limit, you run the risk of it overheating and causing a fire,” explains Jim Enos, CFI, CFEI, CFVI, Donan’s Southern Regional Fire Manager.
Tips for Handling Winter Fires
There are some special considerations when handling fires during the winter months. Our fire managers offer the following suggestions:
- Call in an expert early. This is imperative as falling temperatures can easily freeze a fire scene and cause a delay in its inspection.
- Look for subrogation opportunity. The failure of a faulty power strip or auxiliary heating device can pose an opportunity for subrogation and the recovery of your losses. An expert knows what to look for and can offer their opinion on when to go after subrogation.
The fire managers agree that the occurrence of Christmas decoration fires has decreased and Fetrow attributes this to design improvements. “In the past everything used incandescent lights which use a lot of power and get very hot. But LED lights on the other hand use a lot less power and give off very little heat; this is why a decrease in decoration fires correlates with the increased usage of LED lights,” Fetrow explains.
However, it’s important to be aware of the other fire dangers present during the winter months. Our fire managers’ best prevention tips follow:
- Never leave an oven that’s in use unattended.
- Make sure electrical heaters are placed so that they are clear of any combustibles, such as bedding, curtains, furniture, etc.
- Don’t plug too many things into electrical circuits, especially power strips. Auxiliary heaters use a lot of power and you should never plug multiple devices into a single electrical circuit.
Donan Inspects Many Fire Types
We inspect more than just your residential structure fire. Call us for all your fire investigation needs:
- Commercial or industrial fires
- Off-road equipment fires
- Equipment and machinery fires
- Agricultural fires
- Vehicle fires
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