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December's the worst month for certain fires in homes. What kind?

December is the deadliest month of the year for one particular type of fire. Can you guess which one? If you assumed it was Christmas tree fires, the U.S. Fire Administration wants you to know that’s not the case. While under-watered natural trees and defective artificial ones can indeed be fire hazards, the real danger in December is electrical fires.

In fact, the USFA says that, even among Christmas tree fires themselves, one out of every three is actually caused by an electrical issue. That said, the ordinary, less-glamorous electrical fire is the main reason fire deaths increase during the winter months.

During winter, people spend more time indoors, haul out poorly maintained appliances and, often enough, increase their use of extension cords to accommodate heaters, electric blankets, and holiday decorations. The electrical systems of apartment buildings and condominiums can get overloaded, especially as people rely more and more often on electronics. Electrical maintenance may not be at the top of every building manager’s list.

Every year, 47,820 fires, on average, are caused by home electrical failure or malfunction, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Those fires are estimated to result in $1.48 billion in property damage, more than 1,500 injuries and 455 people killed, not including firefighters.

While nearly half of those fires involve old, damaged or faulty home appliances, including fans, space heaters, washers and dryers, the majority -- 53 percent -- occur in electrical wiring. These can be the result of over-use of extension cords by renters, but they may also be due to factors beyond a renter’s control, such as poor initial installation, overloaded circuits, or inadequate maintenance of the building’s electrical systems.

In fact, between 2007 and 2011, about half of all electrical fires in residences involved electrical distribution or lighting systems. Of those, some type of electrical malfunction was cited as a contributing factor in 74 percent of such fires, with faulty wiring or related equipment accounting for a substantial majority. Unclassified wiring installed in residential buildings accounted for 15 percent of all fires, while extension cord failures only caused 3 percent.

Burns can be among the most painful, traumatic and disfiguring of all injuries. You have a right to know if your building’s electrical systems are up to date. Get the answers you deserve, and have a safe and happy holiday season.

Sources: 

  • U.S. Fire Administration, "Electrical fire safety outreach materials," Dec. 3, 2013
  • Claims Journal, "Electrical Fires Highest in December," Dec. 16, 2013

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