17 December 2015

Christmas tree on fireThe potential dangers of ‘festive’ fires have been demonstrated by firefighters from Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Fires in the home are a danger at any time of year, but at Christmas the risks can be heightened.

Christmas can be a time when old, and sometimes faulty, fairy lights are dug out of cupboards, when candles are used in abundance and when more cooking is done. Add the factor of increased consumption of alcohol into the mix and the result can be a recipe for fire.

At Corby Fire Station on Tuesday, firefighters and community safety officers demonstrated three different types of fire. These included:

  • Real and artificial tree fires, to illustrate the speed of a blaze if fairy lights catch fire, or if a naked flame reaches them from another source (such as a candle).
  • A candle fire, demonstrating the risk of inappropriate holders or surrounds.
  • A cooking related fire (in relation to chip pans which are sometimes used when people make chips to go with their Christmas leftovers).

Station manager Eddie O’Neill said: “We want everyone to have a happy Christmas and to stay safe while celebrating. We hope that the fires we staged today will help send a message out about how quickly flames can take hold and how serious damage can be done if simple safety steps are not followed.

“There are hazards linked to cooking with chip pans, using unsafe fairy lights and using candles with inappropriate holders or surrounds, so we would like to remind people about the measures they can take to make sure they are celebrating Christmas safely, such as ensuring working smoke detectors are fitted in the house and closing internal doors in your home to protect your escape route.”

Fire statistics:

Fairy lights

In the year 2014-2015, in Northamptonshire, there were six home fires linked to electric lighting. Of these, three were caused by fairy lights or other incandescent light bulbs.


In Northamptonshire, between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, a total of 13 domestic fires were linked to the use of candles. Within these fires, four people were injured.

In the same period during the preceding year (2013-2014), six domestic fires were identified as having a candle as the root cause, and three people were injured.

Since 2009, one person has died in a domestic fire in which the cause was the use of a candle.

Nationally, during 2013-2014, there were 796 candle fires in which nine people died. Candle fires also result in about 350 casualties each year.

Chip pan/cooking fires

In the year 2014-2015, within Northamptonshire, there were 168 fires related to cooking. Of these, 24 were linked to the use of chip pans/deep fat fryers.

Fire prevention messages:

Fairy lights

  • Always use Christmas tree lights with the BS EN 60598 code.
  • Check your fairy lights are in working order before use.
  • Do not overload plug sockets. Check the maximum amps that can be handled by the fuse in the plug.
  • Switch off fairy lights and unplug them before you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Make sure you have a smoke alarm and test this every month to make sure it is working.
  • Make sure you and your family have an escape plan, in case of fire.
  • Keep lights away from flammable decorations and materials that can burn easily. Also, keep decorations away from heaters, lights, the fireplace and candles. Paper decorations will burn.
  • Replace failed fairy light bulbs immediately to prevent overheating.


  • Make sure that when in use, candles are secured in a proper holder and away from materials that may catch fire, like curtains.
  • Trim the wick to one quarter of an inch each time before burning. Long or crooked wicks can cause uneven burning, dripping or flaring.
  • Children should not be left alone with lit candles.
  • Put candles out when you leave the room, and make sure they’re put out completely at night.
  • Keep the wax pool clear of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times.
  • Burn candles in a well-ventilated room, but avoid drafts, vents or air currents. This will prevent rapid or uneven burning and excessive dripping.
  • Don’t move candles once they are lit.
  • Do not burn several candles close together as this might cause the flame to flare (mainly with tea lights).
  • Use a snuffer or a spoon to put out candles. It’s safer than blowing them out, when sparks fly.

Chip pans/cooking

  • Take care when cooking with hot oil as it sets alight easily.
  • Make sure food is dry before putting it in hot oil, so it doesn’t splash.
  • If the oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot. Turn off the heat and leave it to cool.
  • Use a thermostat controlled electric deep fat fryer. They can’t overheat.
  • If a pan catches fire, turn off the heat if it is safe to do so. Never throw water over it.
  • Do not tackle the fire yourself.
  • Make sure saucepan handles don’t stick out – so they don’t get knocked off the stove.
  • Take care if you’re wearing loose clothing – they can easily catch fire.
  • Keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob.
  • Spark devices are safer than matches or lighters to light gas cookers, because they don’t have a naked flame.
  • Check the cooker is off when you have finished cooking.
  • Make sure you have a smoke alarm and that this is tested every month.
  • Make sure you and your family (and any visitors) know the escape plan in case of fire.