Winter Holiday Safety

Winter's coming! The Alexandria Fire Department encourages the community to take necessary steps to prevent cooking and heating equipment fires during the holiday season.

Page updated on Nov 19, 2020 at 4:27 PM

Staying Safe During the Holiday Season

As winter approaches and we begin preparing for holiday celebrations, the Alexandria Fire Department encourages the community to be safe and take the necessary precautions when heating your homes and decorating for the holidays.

See the below information on heating and holiday safety and visit for additional information about upcoming holiday events in the City, staying safe while holiday shopping, how to decrease holiday stress, and best practices when shopping online.

Heating Safety

Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths, according to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA). Half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January, and February. Some simple steps can prevent most heating-related fires from happening.

Fire Pits / Fireplace Safety:

  • Portable fireplaces or fire pits should be safely located at least 15 feet from a structure or combustible materials.
  • Recreational fire pits should be safely located at least 25 feet from a structure or combustible materials.
  • Only use seasoned firewood. Do not burn trash, yard debris, construction lumber, or any synthetic materials. Never use any type of accelerant or flammable liquid to start a fire.
  • Use only fire pits that are well-constructed and designed for the appropriate use.
  • Use approved screens to prevent migration of embers or sparks.
  • NEVER leave a fire unattended. Have an extinguishment source readily available, such as a garden hose or fire extinguisher. Ensure the fire is out when done.
  • NEVER store ashes in paper bags or plastic containers; keep ashes and debris outside in a sturdy metal container and soak ashes in water for at least 24 hours before disposal.
  • Have your fireplace and chimney cleaned and inspected regularly by a professional.
  • Keep combustible materials at least 36 inches from any ignition source.
  • Keep children, pets, and combustible or decorative materials away from open flame heating sources.
  • Indoor gas fireplaces should be inspected regularly and cleaned by a professional to ensure proper operation and maintenance.
  • Do not use portable unvented heaters such as kerosene or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas inside the home as they may create dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Ensure you have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home and test at least monthly for proper operation.

Additional Heating Safety Tips

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
  • Plug portable heaters directly into outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.
  • Make sure heaters have an automatic shut-off, so if it tips over, it shuts off.
  • Have a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Put the fire out before you go to sleep or leave your home.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters, or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer's instructions.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
  • Make sure the fire place has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Do not burn paper in your fireplace.

Carbon Monoxide Safety

Although the popularity of carbon monoxide (CO) alarms has been growing in recent years, it cannot be assumed that everyone is familiar with the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.

Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

  • CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
  • If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.

Thanksgiving Safety

Thanksgiving is the leading day for home cooking fires. Four times as many home cooking fires happen on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. Prepare for your Thanksgiving feast by staying aware and knowledgeable of these safety tips.

  • Make sure ovens and stoves are clean and free of grease accumulation prior to use.
  • Do not leave stoves, ovens, or any other heating and cooking material unattended. Stay in the kitchen when using the oven or stove to prepare meals.
  • Keep children away from the stove. Grease and other cooking items can splash, which can cause serious burns.
  • Try to wear short sleeves or roll up your long sleeves so your clothes won’t catch fire.
  • Handle all hot cooking pans utensils with proper oven mitts and pot holders to prevent burns.
  • Always set timers to keep cooking times.
  • Keep food wrappers, pot holders, cloths, plastic, and other flammable items away from heating sources while cooking.
  • Once cooking is done, make sure all cooking appliances are off.
  • Call 911 immediately if a cooking fire occurs.

Holiday Safety

The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year's Day, and New Year's Eve, according to NFPA. Between 2009-2014, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. Fire departments across the nation also responded to an estimated average of 860 home structure fires per year that began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees. As you begin to fill your home with decorations this holiday season, keep in mind these fire prevention tips.

  • Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
  • Keep lit candles away from decorations and other things that can burn.
  • Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.
  • When choosing a Christmas tree, chose one with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • Make sure your Christmas tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure your tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand and be sure to add water daily.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. Dried out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or place outside against the home.
  • Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.
  • Keep children and pets away from lit candles.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside. Remind smokers to keep their smoking materials with them so young children do not touch them.
  • Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers. Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding.