Fire and ice: How to prevent winter fires

Pop quiz – what are the leading months for home fires in the U.S.? Summer, when it's hot outside? No. Fall, when dry leaves can act as tinder? No. In fact, it's the winter – specifically, December, January and February, according to the National Fire Prevention Agency. Home fires spike in this period due to things like Christmas trees, lighting, decorations and candles. Cooking during the holidays and the heavier reliance on heating also contribute to the higher rate of fire incidence.

Simply being mindful of the heightened conditions for building fires during the upcoming months can help homeowners and business managers avoid a dangerous blaze, but there's more to it than that. By following the experts' advice and maintaining a culture of workplace safety, every building can stay fire-free through the high-risk time of year.

Deck the halls and keep the fire extinguisher handy
The winter holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's Day and others – are all about hanging decorations, putting up the tree, and decking the building out with lights and candles. By all means, be festive, but also be aware of the fire hazards your decorations create.

According to the NFPA, Christmas tree fires are uncommon, but when they do occur they tend to be more dangerous than other fires. That's because the cause is often an electrical short-circuit or malfunction involving the lights, combined with the wood, pine needles and decorations which provide fuel for the fire. A dry Christmas tree is highly flammable, as this YouTube video demonstrates:

Additionally, most candle fires occur on Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Day. Be cognizant of where you place candles, what kind of candles you use (indoor versus outdoor), where you hang decorations and what kind of shape your electrical wire lights are in. Almost half of decoration fires occur because the items were placed too close to a heat source, according to a NFPA graphic.

Fire extinguishers must be readily available, easily located, charged and ready to use at all times. Given how quickly a fire can go from small to rampaging, it's crucial for individuals to be trained on proper extinguisher use and ready to access one at a moment's notice.

Don't burn the roast
Cooking is already a leading cause of house fires across the U.S. all year long, but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rank second and third behind Thanksgiving, respectively, as the top days for home fires. In 2013, home cooking fires were 58 percent more likely on Christmas Day than the average, and 54 percent more likely on Christmas Eve. This comes as no surprise: Families gather and people cook large amounts of food for the entire day – the conditions are ideal for kitchen fires.

Fire extinguisher signs are a must here, too, but Martha Stewart's website also has tips to keep it from getting to that point. Lorraine Carli of the NFPA wrote on Stewart's blog to stay in the kitchen whenever anything is cooking, avoid keeping flammable items near the stove or oven and keeping kids out of the area altogether.

Following this advice can help homeowners and business owners from ruining their holiday and finding themselves in a dangerous situation.