Tips for keeping fire safe this winter/holiday season

Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team and local fire districts are reminding residents and visitors to properly dispose of fireplace/woodstove ashes and to use caution when decorating for the holiday. The following safety tips are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to help keep homes safe this winter/holiday season.

Fireplaces and Woodstoves

The winter typically means building a cozy fire to keep the home warm, but there are risks associated with fireplaces and woodstoves. According to NFPA, fire departments in the U.S. respond to an estimated average of 54,030 structure fires per year that involve heating equipment including fireplaces/woodstoves.

  • Have a qualified professional install woodstoves, chimney connectors and chimneys.
  • Woodstoves should be UL2 certified.
  • In woodstoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
  • Have the fireplace/chimney and woodstove inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep every fall before heating season, and make sure to have a properly installed and working chimney spark arrestor.
  • Clean the inside of the fireplace/woodstove periodically using a wire brush.
  • On open fireplaces, use a screen: 1/8-inch wire mesh is recommended for indoor fireplace screens that are heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
  • Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing of them. Place ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid and add water to the ashes before disposing of them. Keep the container at least 10 feet away from the home, decks, fences, wood piles and other combustible materials. Never use a vacuum cleaner to pick up ashes and never dispose of ashes in bags or boxes. Contact the local trash collection agency for ash disposal recommendations.
  • Keep a close eye on children whenever a fireplace/wood or pellet stove is being used. Remind them to stay at least 3 feet away at all times.
  • Woodstoves need space. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away. Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect the CO alarms, so they all sound at once.
  • Older woodstoves or fireplaces, should be upgraded with a more efficient heat source that can also help improve Tahoe’s air and water quality. Newer wood stoves are Environmental Protection Agency compliant and have catalytic converters that remove particulates from smoke before emission. Similarly, natural gas stoves/fireplaces emit significantly less pollutants. Rebates may be available to help with replacement of inefficient woodstoves/fireplaces.
  • More information available at Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. | org

Holiday Decorating and Entertaining

According to NFPA, Christmas trees and holiday decorations account for more than 1,000 structure fires every year.

  • Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant, flame retardant or flameless.
  • Keep lit candles away from decorations and other flammable materials or use battery-powered flameless candles. Keep children and pets away from lit candles.
  • Some decorative lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not for both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for maximum number of light strands to connect together.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
  • Do not block egress windows and doors with decorations.
  • Test smoke alarms and tell guests about the home fire escape plan.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Stay in the kitchen when using the oven or cooking on the stovetop.
  • If smoking outside, make sure to properly dispose of cigarettes in a large, deep ashtray a safe distance away from any vegetation.

For more home safety tips, visit nfpa.org.