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Flaming Christmas Trees!

Christmas tree fires are rare, however when they do occur they are serious!

Trees can become fire hazards when they dry out.  See the difference between a dry tree catching fire and a tree that was watered regularly.

A demonstration showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be as opposed to a tree watered regularly. This test was conducted by the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories.


The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tracks fires and their causes in the United States. Here are some statistics copied  from the its website:

  • “Between 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 7 deaths, 19 injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage annually.
  • On average, one of every 31 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires.”*

5 strategies for preventing Christmas tree fires!

Start with a freshly cut tree!

  • Pick a tree with a strong green colour and noticeable fragrance.
  • Very few needles should fall when the butt of the tree is tapped on the ground.
  • Needles should bend, not break.
  • The branches should be hard to break.
  • The stump should be sticky with resin.

Keep the tree from drying out!

The moisture content of each tree can play a dominant role in determining the fire hazard each tree represents.” **

  • Fresh cut the bottom 2 to 5 cm of trunk right before you put the tree in its stand.  The fresh cut will assist the tree to drink more water.
  • Water the tree!  The tree stand should holds 2-4 litres of water. A two-metre tall tree will drink about two litres every day. Check and top-up the water every day.  I check twice a day.  If water drops below the base of the trunk, the stem may reseal itself. requiring a new fresh cut
  • Use a preservative in the water. If you are concerned about small children or pets drinking the water, use a small amount of sugar instead.
  • Heat dries out the tree. Keep the tree away from all heat sources: heating vents or registers, fireplaces, candles and cigarettes.
  • Do not leave the tree up for longer than 10 to 14 days.  Even the freshest tree starts to dry out in two weeks.  NFPA statistics have found that almost  40% of Christmas tree fires occur in January.

Use safe extension cords!

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 38% of home Christmas tree fires.” *

  • Try to position the tree so you do not have to use long extension cords.
  • Do not overload wall outlets.
  • Inspect all cords before using. Make sure they are CSA certified. Look for loose connections or frayed or exposed wire. Discard any defective cords.
  • Insert plugs fully into outlets. Poor contact may cause overheating or shock.
  • Do not coil or bunch an extension cord which is in use and do not run it under carpets or rugs.

Use safe lights!

  • Use Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certified light strings/sets.
  • Use the proper lights for the environment.  Some outdoor light strings/sets burn too hot indoors.
  • Inspect light strings/set before use. Check for cracked bulbs and for frayed, broken or exposed wires, and discard if faulty.
  • Turn off the lights before going to bed or leaving the house.

Choose safe decorations!

  • Choose decorations that are flame-retardant, non-combustible and non-conductive.
  • Avoid using angel hair (glass wool) together with spray-on snowflakes. This combination is highly combustible.
  • Do not use metallic ornaments on the tree. If they make contact with defective wiring they could become a shock hazard.

Then enjoy!

Happy Holidays from Home Risky Home!


* Source: NFPA’s “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees” report, November 2015**
** Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology “Fire on the Web” page accessed December 2015



9 Kitchen Fire/Burn Prevention Tips!

9 Kitchen Fire/Burn Prevention Tips!

One Christmas long ago, when I was about 19-20 years old, I helped prepare the family feast.  We always invited guests to join us for dinner at Christmas.  We enjoyed cocktails in the living-room while the large turkey roasted in the oven.  The longer the turkey took to cook, the more we drank.  That year the bird was taking too long to cook, so I turned up the heat in the oven.   Too high in fact –  I could hear the fat in the drippings splattering.  I went to take the turkey out of the oven with tea towels for pot holders.  The pan was too hot! I dropped it on the opened oven door and fat splattered onto my bare foot.  My father recovered the bird and I left the scene to tend to the large second degree burn on my foot. My accident could have been prevented if I had practiced safe cooking techniques.

When it comes to burns and fires, the kitchen is the most dangerous room in the house. Kitchen fires are a big concern this time of year, fortunately most can be prevented with these tips.

  1. Never leave grilling, frying or broiling food unattended. Forty per cent (40%) of cooking-fire related deaths occur because the cooking was unattended. If you have to leave the kitchen unattended while the food is cooking –  turn the burner off.
  2. If you are frying – heat the oil slowly to the required temperature.  If the oil smokes, it is too hot!  Turn the heat off or carefully move the pan off the element. Keep a lid handy to smother any fire.
  3. If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
  4. Keep cooking areas clean – wipe appliances and surfaces after cooking to prevent grease build-up.
  5. Keep cooking surfaces clutter free. Do not store combustible objects near the stove.  Curtains, potholders, dishtowels and food packaging can easily catch fire.
  6. Always turn pot handles inwards to prevent the pots from getting knocked.
  7. Dress appropriately for cooking. Wear sturdy shoes to protect your feet.  Don’t wear loose clothing that can dangle over heating elements.  Use pot holders or oven mitts to handle dishes and pots with hot food.
  8. Be on alert! If you are sleepy, are taking drowsy medication or have consumed alcohol take a pass on cooking and either let someone else cook or order your food in.
  9. Keep children at least one meter away from the stove.

The strategy for putting out grease and oil fires is to smother them and turn off the heat source.

  • A fire in a pot may be extinguished by  sliding a lid onto the pot and turning off the heating element. Do not try to carry the pot outside – jarring the lid may restart the fire.  Make sure the pot is cool before removing the lid.
  • Shallow grease fires may be smothered with baking soda.
  • A fire in the oven or microwave  may be extinguished by keeping the door closed and turning the appliance off.  Wait for the burning food to cool before opening the door.
  • Never pour water on oil or grease fires!  Water will cause the fire to spread instead of putting it out.


I hope that you enjoy cooking during this festive season!



Wires Down – No Electricity

Wires Down – No Electricity

I am going to share with you the story of the day I lost power.  It was a small incident that reminded me of the importance of being prepared for emergencies.   Toronto Hydro has an excellent brochure:  ARE YOU READY? HOW TO PREPARE YOUR FAMILY FOR AN EMERGENCY. I did not read it until after my power was restored.  Page 6 of the brochure has a list of what to do during an outage.  Let’s see how I did and what I could have done better.

It was a dark and stormy Friday night. The wind howled while my family slept soundly. Crash! A tree branch fell on the electricity wires leading from the pole to the house. Nobody heard the crash. The carbon monoxide monitor beeped every 20 seconds indicating that the battery was low. I woke to the beeps in the otherwise eerily silent and dark house, a house without electricity.

There were no numbers on my clock radio – my cell phone indicated it was 4 am. I looked out my bedroom window. Hmmm, my neighbour behind my house still had their patio lights on, maybe it was just my street. I went out my front door to view the street lights. That is when I saw it – the branch that knocked out my electricity service line! Live wires lay on the ground! Oh darn, I have to go into repair mode, doing nothing is not an option.

Check – I identified the source of the outage.

Check – Unplug computers, televisions, stereos and other electronics in case of a power surge.

City workers clearing tree branch that fell on service wires.

City workers clearing the tree branch that fell on service wires

I live I Toronto, so I have the benefit of the “311” line. The operator took my information and made a work order for the city crews to come clean up the branch. I explained that I did not have Toronto Hydro’s number handy, so she transferred my call once she was finished. I was hopeful after speaking to the Toronto Hydro agent that my electricity would be restored within a couple hours. Job done, I went back to bed.

I could have done better:  I did not have a list of emergency numbers handy.  The city help line appropriately connected me to the power company.  In Toronto, report downed power lines to 416.542.8000

The grey dawn light passing through my bedroom window greeted me as I woke. My clock radio was still blank. Ugh! I want my coffee. I dressed, leashed the dog and headed outside. One look at the downed wires and I put the back dog inside so that I could investigate. The branch took down more than the wires, it took down my service mast! Double darn-it! Now I need to call my insurance company and an electrician.

Done:  Stay away from a live wires.  Keep children and pets away too.

Electrical service mast pulled of outer wall.

Electrical service mast pulled of outer wall.

Service mast broke at joint above meter.

Service mast broke at joint above meter.

I got the weekend service for the insurance company.  At that time I did not know if I was making a claim or not, but I felt it best to get a claim started just in  case I needed it.  Really – how expensive is it to put the service mast back up?  A couple hours work at most and some pipe.  I thought it might be less than my $500 deductible. (On Monday I found out that it was almost 4 times my deductible!)  In any case, my insurance company hooked me up with an electrician.  I spoke with the contractor over the phone and found out that I wouldn’t be able to get an electrician until Monday at the earliest. Why do these things happen on weekends?  I was worried. Could Toronto Hydro hook up my power with my service mast down?

Note to self: I should add my insurance phone number and policy number to the emergency phone list I am preparing.  If I had contractors, I should also add them to the list.

It was time to plan for a long term outage.  I asked my neighbour if I could plug in an extension cord into one her outlets and use her electricity.   She thankfully agreed.  I ran the power cord from her living room to my basement where I plugged in my freezer.  I unplugged my freezer occasionally to put in other appliances as needed: my water kettle (I needed coffee), the microwave oven and later in the day my lights,

Done: During an outage, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

By 8:00 in the evening I had power!  The electricians from Toronto Hydro made a temporary fix to my service mast so that the could hook up my service.  I happily signed an agreement that I would have the mast repaired properly within a couple weeks.

Other items in the brochure’s to do list include:

  • If you have electric heating, turn down the thermostats in case of a power surge
  • Don’t go near electrical equipment around areas of standing water, like a flooded basement
  • Never use BBQs, propane heaters or portable generators indoors
  • Never leave candles unattended, whenever possible, use a flashlight
  • Don’t use a gas stove as a source of heat
  • Secure windows and doors as well as outdoor furniture and equipment
  • Park vehicle in protected areas, if possible

Most of us have come to expect that electricity will always be there. The utility companies remind us to be prepared, outages can happen here. They do happen; big ones like North America’s largest power outage in 2003 or the ice-storm of December 2013 and little ones like my situation.

In this case, I relied on my instincts and experience and everything turned out fine.  I want to be better prepared for next time, actually I want my whole family to be better prepared for next time.  Not all of my family members know what to do nor where I keep important information.

Watch out for my next post where I put together my emergency kit and train my family on what to do in case of a home emergency.

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