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TRENTON - As we move into the holiday season, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) Division of Fire Safety (NJDFS) wants to remind residents of the increased fire risks that holiday lights and decorations can present in the home. 

According to a release, the divison is also emphasizing how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic carrying into the holiday season, by virtue of restricted travel recommendations, could increase the risk of residential fires that are already present because people are spending more time at home.

“December is a time of joyous celebration for diverse religious observances in New Jersey, but this year is a little different, in that we are being asked to stay home and avoid large family gatherings,” stated Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, DCA commissioner. “This guidance was put in place to help protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19, but we want to make sure that people are aware and know how to avoid the many fire hazards in the home that are posed by holiday lights, decorations and cooking.”

The traditional trimmings of the season, such as live evergreens, decorations and live candles, have inherent risks of fire associated with them and are demonstrated by these statistics from the National Fire Protection Association:

  • U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 780 home structure fires per year that began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees, in 2013-2017. These fires caused an annual average of three civilian fire deaths, 34 civilian fire injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage.
  • Approximately 90% of decoration fires are accidental.
  • Decorations were too close to a heat source such as a candle or equipment in more than two of every five (44%) of the fires.
  • More than one-fifth (21%) of decoration fires started in the kitchen. Sixteen percent started in the living room, family room, or den.
  • One-fifth (20%) of home decoration fires occurred in December.

“The annual holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, occurring as it does at start of the home heating season, already increases home fire risk. In 2020, the ongoing pandemic travel advisories may by default increase that risk,” stated Richard Mikutsky, NJDFS director and state fire marshal.

Mikutsky adds that the notion of simply recognizing the risk and taking steps to reduce it may go a long way in keeping everyone safe. Mikutsky notes the following guidance can provide for a safe holiday at home:

  • Only use decorations that are flame-retardant or non-flammable.
  • Check holiday lights each year for frayed wires or excessive wear.
  • Don’t link more than three strands of holiday lights.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles instead.
  • Keep your live Christmas tree away from heat sources and room exits.
  • Water your live Christmas tree daily to keep it from becoming dry.

Mikutsky notes that the Division continues the fight against fire during all seasons with its participation in WABC7 Operation Save a Life’s distribution of home smoke alarms, putting the life saving devices in the hands of those in need during the holiday period and beyond.

DCA and DFS offer fire safety resources on their social media channels in cooperation with the National Fire Protection Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s US Fire Administration to convey holiday safety precautions.

To follow the Division of Fire Safety on Twitter, please visit: twitter.com/NJFireSafety

The Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in the State. The division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code and other community risk reduction strategies, as well as certification and ongoing training for the state career and volunteer firefighter corps.

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