Published in


Holiday Fire Safety Tips From the Palo Alto Fire Department

With the holidays around the corner, and everyone making plans to connect with family and friends, the Palo Alto Fire Department recommends the following holiday (and everyday) safety tips for preventing house fires.

During this hectic and festive time, it can be easy to overlook safety precautions. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, house fires in the winter account for 30% of all fire deaths and 23% of all fire injuries. Many of these deaths and injuries relate to cooking and candle-related fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Read this update with community health and safety in mind.


Stand By Your Pan

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires. Fires happen fast. If you need to leave the room, turn the burner off, even if you think you will only be gone a minute. Set a timer if you are simmering or baking so you don’t forget you are cooking.

Keep kids — and pets — away from the stove (and candles!)

If you have kids or pets, it’s vital you stay in the kitchen, as they may be tempted to sneak a taste of what you’re cooking and get burned by hot surfaces or liquids. Keep them at least three feet away and maintain the same boundary for candles.

Act quickly when your cooking starts to smoke

Fires start when cooking temperatures are too high. If you see smoke or grease start to boil, turn the burner off immediately to prevent a fire starting.

Keep a pan lid or baking sheet nearby while cooking

If a fire starts in your pan and the flames are small, having a lid or baking sheet nearby to smother it can prevent a major fire.

Turn pot/pan handles towards the back of the stove

Cooking a holiday dinner can be frantic and make us accident prone. Turning handles towards the back of the stove decreases our chances of knocking pots on the floor and catching fire or causing a burn.

Take extra precautions using turkey fryers

Frying your holiday bird can be swift and delicious, but fryers can be dangerous if not used properly. It’s safer to use them outside, but never on a wooden deck or in a garage. Here’s a helpful safety video from the International Association of Firefighters.

Learn how to put out small fires correctly before they become big ones

When a fire flares up while cooking, our instinct might be to throw water on it, which can make it worse. If it’s a small fire, smother the flames by covering the pan with a lid and turning off the burner. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cool. If it’s a small conventional or microwave oven fire, turn it off and leave the oven door closed until it’s cool, and have it checked by a professional if you suspect it’s an electrical issue. If that doesn’t work, or you simply have doubts about fighting a small fire, close the door behind you to help contain the fire and call 9–1–1 once you’re outside.


Use battery-operated candles

More than 1/3 of home decoration fires are caused by candle flames, using battery-operated candles are sure bet for reducing fire risk. Put candles out when you leave the house or go to sleep. A pet, child or a draft can knock them over and cause a fire.

Use flame-resistant or flame-retardant decorations

Reduce fire risk by buying flame-resistant or flame-retardant decorations and keeping them at least three feet from a heat source.

Water Christmas trees daily

One in five Christmas tree fires were caused by trees that were very dry and within 3 feet of a heat source. Watering the tree can help reduce its flammability. Make sure artificial trees are fire resistant. Get rid of the tree right after the holiday.

Make sure your smoke alarms work

Test your smoke alarm now! Assess your alarm by pushing the test button. If they’re battery-powered, and the batteries haven’t been changed in over a year, it’s a good idea to add new ones even if the test button works.

Learn when and how to use a fire extinguisher

Only use a fire extinguisher on small fires contained to one room, and make sure you are using the right kind. There are five primary types of fire extinguishers for different kinds of fires. Remember the word P.A.S.S. when using the extinguisher (see the graphic below). If you have questions about how or when to use them, go here or call the fire department. If the fire is too much to handle, evacuate and call 9–1–1.


  • Create or rehearse your evacuation plan ready and share it with your family and friends: While it may seem like a buzz kill when you’re entertaining to talk about fire safety evacuation plans, it’s a good idea.
  • Use holiday lights safely: Make sure the holiday lights you use indoors were made for indoor usage and replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than 3 strands of mini-light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
  • Ask smokers to smoke outside: Wet cigarette butts with water before discarding and keep smoking materials with them so young children can’t access them.
  • Do not run dishwashers or dryers when you go to sleep or go out: These appliances pose a high fire risk because of their high wattage, friction, and motors.
  • Turn TVs and computers completely off when you go on holiday: Lots of fires happen when these are in standby mode.
  • Turn off the water heater at night or when you’re away: This saves money on the electrical bill and leaves you less vulnerable for electrical fires.
  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned annually: Active fires in the chimney are stubborn and can result in a messy, smokey house.

For more information on the Palo Alto Fire Department, go here.




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
City of Palo Alto

Official communications from the City of Palo Alto. Connect about issues of interest to our community. Follow us on social