Risk of Christmas tree fires often overlooked

A dry Christmas tree fire can engulf an entire room within a minute, fire experts warn. LONDON FIRE BRIGADE

(CBS NEWS) – For many of us, the holidays mean celebrations and quality time with loved ones, but all of the excitement and festivities can cause people to overlook some dangerous safety hazards that pose a special risk this time of year.

“The holidays are a busy time with many distractions. We have lots of festive décor around our house, and we’re in the kitchen cooking more. This can mean a greater risk of burn injuries, particularly to our kids,” Dr. Philip H. Chang, a pediatric burn surgeon at Shriners Hospitals for Children, told CBS News.

Chang is one of the doctors behind a new campaign to help people “be burn aware,” especially around the holidays.

Kids in particular, he said, are at an increased risk of burn injuries associated with holiday fire mishaps.

“They are naturally curious, so they may touch a hot glass fireplace door, or reach up to a hot stove and get burned,” Chang said.

Kids are also more likely than adults to be badly injured by fire.

“Children have thinner skin than adults, so they can burn more easily and sustain a deeper injury,” Chang explained. “Also, burn injuries to children can require ongoing surgeries to maintain function as the child grows, which can be traumatic to the entire family.”

Researchers from Shriners recently commissioned a survey of U.S. adults about their fire safety practices. The findings highlighted a number of common habits could lead to serious injuries, especially for kids.

The survey found:

  • 45 percent of people surveyed do not water live Christmas trees daily, even though 70 percent said they knew they should.
  • 25 percent of people surveyed leave lit candles unattended in their homes.
  • 27 percent leave lit candles within the reach of children.
  • 47 percent do not keep something nearby to extinguish a fire when cooking, such as a pot lid or cookie sheet.
  • 25 percent do not turn pot handles to the back of the stove and out of a child’s reach.

A staple of the holiday season, live Christmas trees can be particularly dangerous if not watered properly.

“A dry tree can ignite a room in less than a minute and lead to one of the deadliest types of fires that can involve entire families,” Chang said.

If you have a live tree in your home, water it every day, and discard it when it dries out.

Also remember to check your holiday lights every year for kinks or frayed wires, as these can often spark a fire, Chang says.

Candles, he warned, are another common cause of injury this time of year.

“We frequently see injuries where a child’s clothing has caught on fire because they get too close to an open flame,” he said. “These burns can be quite serious and require surgeries and skin grafts.”

Tea light candles in bathrooms can be particularly dangerous, especially those placed on the back of toilets.

“We’ve had patients who sat down and caught their hair or clothing on fire from those,” Chang said.

He recommends not leaving lit candles unattended anywhere, and consider switching to flameless battery-operated candles to create that holiday glow more safely.

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