Learn more about how to prevent burn risks during the holidays

Count to three. That’s how long it takes for a dry Christmas tree to go up in flames.

In fact, the sap found in natural Christmas trees is combustible, creating a serious fire hazard for your home during the busy holiday season. It can take as few as 10 seconds for a tree fire to spread — and less than one minute for a home to be destroyed in a house fire.

Fortunately, fires during the holiday season can be prevented. For starters, keep your tree watered and clear of potential fire hazards, such as open flames.

At the UPMC Mercy Burn Center, medical director Jenny Ziembicki, MD, and her staff of burn specialists see an increase in burn patients during the holidays.

“It’s unfortunate but true,” Dr. Ziembicki says. “There are so many hazards people are unaware of this time of year that can cause serious burn injuries.”

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

How to Prevent Burn Injuries During the Holidays

Handling Hot Food Items During the Holiday Season

Types of related burns include:

  • Flame and splash burns from cooking with hot oil
  • 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 While Cooking

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 During the Holidays

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.

Risks Associated with Space Heaters and Fireplaces

Some examples of injuries related to space heaters include:

  • Falling face-first into space heater
  • Sleeping too close to space heater
  • Coming in contact with the glass door of fireplace
  • Coming in contact with a space heater
  • Explosion of fireplace with burns to face and chest

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.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Trauma & Emergency Medicine

Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye or in a heartbeat. And when they do, minutes matter. UPMC’s Emergency Medicine and Trauma Care services are ready to provide world-class care, no matter how serious your emergency. All our Emergency Departments have a full-time staff of emergency specialists at the ready 24 hours a day. We use advanced technology to diagnose and treat your condition and coordinate with your doctor to provide the best care possible. We also have specialized trauma care at several of our hospitals. If you or a loved one is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or visit the nearest Emergency Department.