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TOWSON, MD (December 20, 2018) – Although extremely rare, Christmas tree-related fires can prove fatal. Tragically, that was the case on January 19, 2015, when a mansion in Annapolis went up in flames due to an electrical fire that spread to a 15-foot-tall old Christmas tree. Sadly, six family members perished in the deadly four-alarm fire.
Each year, at least 1,000 home structure fires are sparked by Christmas decorations (80 percent) or by Christmas trees (17.5 percent), notes AAA Insurance. Even so, “half of Christmas tree fires occur in the 20 days after Christmas.”
The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but many serious household accidents occur in December. Holiday decoration-related accidents sent nearly 13,000 people to emergency rooms last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
“U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 800 home structure fires per year that began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees, in 2012-2016,” according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). “These fires caused an annual average of two civilian fire deaths, 34 civilian fire injuries and $11 million in direct property damage.”
On average, “One-fifth (19%) of the home decoration fires occurred in December,” warns the NFPA. What is more, “cooking equipment was involved in 20% of home decoration fires. This can happen when a decoration is left on or too close to a stove or other cooking equipment.”
“While the holidays are a time for cheer and goodwill, an accident or a mishap can quickly spoil the spirit,” said Welaine Memenza, a manager with AAA Insurance. “Being familiar with your insurance policies and ensuring you have the necessary coverage will provide a measure of reassurance at the holidays should accidents occur.”
“Between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year,” according to the NFPA. “These fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually.” The NFPA also advises:
On average, one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires.
Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 43% of home Christmas tree fires.
In one-quarter (27%) of the Christmas tree fires and in 80% of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
More than one-fifth (22%) of Christmas tree fires were intentional.
Forty-two percent of reported home Christmas tree fires occurred in December and 33% were reported in January.
Two of every five (40%) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.
Here is a word to the wise: keep your Christmas tree well-watered, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and AAA Insurance warn. So, water your tree every day. “A dry tree is dangerous because it can catch on fire easily.”
By the way, “artificial Christmas trees can still catch fire, especially if candles are involved, warns Smart Kids 101. “So look for one that is ‘flame resistant’ or ‘flame retardant.’” Here are some of the typical – and not so typical – situations your insurance policy might cover:
O’ Christmas tree: You thought you tied it down securely, but a glance in the rearview mirror reveals your Douglas fir atop the hood of a following vehicle. Damage to the other vehicle may be covered by your automobile policy.
Up on the rooftop: Festive lighting is one of the most important parts of the holidays. However, traversing wet roofs and icy stepladders can be dangerous. Should a guest slip and fall while helping hang the holiday lights, your insurance policy may cover associated medical bills, and may provide defense against a lawsuit.
Lighted candles: “Candles start two out of five home decoration structure fires,” according to the National Fire Protection Association. The “top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve.” Costs to repair burned walls or damaged flooring may be covered. Check your renters or homeowners policy to be sure.
Festive feasting: Whether celebrating Kwanzaa, observed from December 26, 2018 to January 1, 2019, or carving into the Christmas ham, seasonal socializing during the dinner hour creates a serious choking risk. Your current policy may offer coverage for a guest’s medical care and your legal fees.
Candy cane pain: Should a visitor chip a tooth on a candy cane or a peanut brittle snowman, dental repairs may be covered.
Santa’s four-wheeled sleigh: While you’re battling it out inside the mall, your car is at the mercy of careless drivers, runaway shopping carts and the elements. Broken taillights, door dings and hail damage may be covered by your auto policy.
Down through the chimney: The chimney may be famous for gift delivery, but unlocked doors and windows are often to blame for unwanted gift removal. While theft is a covered loss, it’s a good idea to maintain an up-to-date inventory of existing and new purchases to ensure all your possessions are safely documented.
Ice follies: Winter wonderlands are great for songs, but terrible for sidewalks. If guests or other invitees slip and fall on your property, protection for medical payments and legal fees may be covered.
Eat, drink and be responsibly merry: Most states have social host liability laws, which may hold you responsible for accidents or injuries caused by your inebriated guests. Be sure to monitor your guests’ alcohol intake and designate drivers.
Runaway reindeer: Crowded roadways and inclement weather can make it difficult to see and avoid animals that dart across the road. Animal collisions can cause significant vehicle damage, but the associated repair costs are usually covered with comprehensive coverage.
The holidays offer a reminder to cherish and protect what is most important. To find out more about home or auto insurance, visit AAA.com/Insurance or call your AAA agent or (877) 556-8345, to see what discounts you may be eligible for and what type of coverage you might need.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to over 59 million members nationwide and more than 975,000 members in Maryland. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit AAA.com.
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