fireplace christmas

Holiday Burn and Fire Safety Tips

Count to three. That’s how long it takes for a dry Christmas tree to go from a decorated masterpiece to a huge ball of exploding fire. Yes, the sap in the trees actually explodes, adding to fire’s fury and causing serious burn risk for anyone nearby. It only takes 10 seconds for the fire to spread, and in less than one minute, a house can be completely destroyed. But that can all be prevented. Just keep your tree watered and clear of any potential fire hazard. Simple enough, right? Unfortunately for some, it’s not.

At the UPMC Mercy Burn Center, medical director Dr. Jenny Ziembicki and her staff of burn specialists definitely see an increase in burn patients around the holidays. “It’s unfortunate but true. There are so many hazards people are unaware of this time of year that can cause serious burn injuries,” says Dr. Ziembicki. But with the experience of treating more than 350 burn patients and providing more than 2,500 outpatient visits annually, the patients seen at the center are in good hands, notes Dr. Ziembicki.

Here are some helpful tips for holiday burn prevention from the experts at the UPMC Mercy Burn Center and some examples of the types of burns treated.

Handling Hot Food Items

Types of related burns include:

  • Cooking with hot oil: flame or splash burns
  • Spilling hot water, food or grease from the oven
  • Hot chocolate burns
  • Crock pot burns
  • Burns from hot cookie trays

Tips for Avoiding Food-related Burns

  • Whenever working with hot food and liquids, ensure the cooking area is free of obstacles and distractions.
  • Use oven mitts when handling hot items.
  • Always have a plan for where you will place a hot item so you can avoid extended contact.
  • Test the temperature of liquids before serving.

Grease Fires

Tips: Make sure that everyone working in or helping out in your kitchen is aware of how dangerous hot grease can be. Ensure pot handles are turned toward the middle of the stove to avoid accidental spillage. If a grease fire occurs, turn off the heat source. If the fire is contained to a pan or pot, cover it with a lid or cookie sheet. NEVER attempt to extinguish with water. Do not attempt to move the pan to the sink or outside. If the grease fire is not contained to a pot, a chemical fire extinguisher can be used. If you are unable to safely extinguish the fire, evacuate and call 911.

Home Safety

Some examples of safety related burn injuries include:

  • Christmas tree fires
  • Mouth burns from children chewing on Christmas tree lights
  • House fires in homes without working smoke detectors
  • Furnace explosions

Tips to Prevent House Fires

  • Keep natural trees watered and away from heat sources such as fireplaces and candles.
  • Inspect lights for damage and frayed wires.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets.
  • Never leave lights or candles unattended. Monitor children’s activities and educate about the dangers surrounding flames and electrical sources.
  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors at a minimum of annually.
  • Have your furnace inspected and cleaned annually.

Space heaters and Fireplaces

Some examples of injuries include:

  • Falling face-first into space heater
  • Burn injury when sleeping too close to space heater
  • Burn injury to the hand from glass door of fireplace
  • Contact or flame burns to the leg as a result of contact with a space heater
  • Explosion of fireplace with burns to face and chest

Tips: If a burn injury occurs, stop the burning process quickly. Remove any clothing or substance involved in the burn injury. Cool the area immediately with cool water. Do not apply ice, ointment or other home remedy. Apply a dry dressing and present to the emergency department for evaluation.