The winter holiday season should be a joyous time of year. However, certain types of fires and injuries associated with holiday decorating are much more common during this season.
In 2005-2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 240 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees. Home Christmas tree fires caused an average of 13 civilian deaths, 27 civilian injuries, and $16.7 million in direct property damage per year.
Although these fires are not common, when they do occur, they are unusually likely to be serious. On average, one of every 18 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death compared to an average of one death per 141 total reported home structure fires.
Half of the home Christmas tree structure fires were in December and one-third were in January. Forty-two percent of home Christmas tree structure fires occurred on the 12 days from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3.
Electrical failures or malfunctions were involved in one-third of the home Christmas tree structure fires. One in five occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree. Decorative lights with line voltage were involved in 13 percent of these incidents. Eleven percent of the home Christmas tree fires were started by candles.
Eighteen percent of home Christmas tree structure fires were intentionally set. Half of the intentional Christmas tree fires occurred in January and may have been related to disposal.
The risk of fire is higher with natural trees than artificial ones. Researchers found that dry natural trees burned easily but trees that had been kept moist are unlikely to catch fire unintentionally.
Fires involving holiday lights or other decorative lighting with line voltage
Holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage were involved in an estimated average of 150 home structure fires per year in this same period. These fires caused an average of eight civilian deaths, 14 civilian injuries, and $8.5 million in direct property damage per year. Almost half occurred in December and 13 percent were in January. Seventeen percent of these fires began with Christmas trees. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in 73 percent of the fires involving holiday or decorative lights.
Falls related to holiday decorating
In a study of fall-related injuries during the holiday season, Stevens and Vajani estimated that an annual average of roughly 5,800 fall injuries related to holiday decorating were treated at hospital emergency rooms between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31 in 2000-2001, 2001-2002, and 2002-03. Sixty-two percent of those injured were between 20 and 49 years of age, compared to 43 percent of the population in this age group. With 43 percent of the injuries resulting from falls from ladders and 13 percent caused by falls from the roof, it appears that the majority of these falls occurred during outdoor decorating. Falls from furniture, typically inside the structure, accounted for 11 percent of the injuries. Some falls occurred when people tripped over or slipped on tree skirts or other decorations.