Family reflects on Christmas tree fire; RFD talks holiday safety tips

How to have a fire free holiday

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(ABC 6 News) – While many say this is a magical time of year with holiday lights shining, Christmas and Hanukkah candles burning, what some do not realize this time of year is that your home is also at a higher risk for catching fire.

Capt. Brett Knapp with the Rochester Fire Dept. says this time of year fire crews typically see an uptick in calls due to the colder weather and holiday decorations.

“It’s usually busier for us just because we have the decorations and trees and candles and things around the holidays that people are using more, so those can be fire hazards,” said Capt. Knapp. “But not only that, we have people that might be using more space heaters to heat their homes or garages or they’re doing more work in the garages this time of year where they have heaters out there as well.”

Laura and Mike of Rochester experienced a tragic fire of their own last Christmas.

“It was shock initially, like ‘no, this can’t be what I’m seeing,'” said Laura, who preferred her last name not to be disclosed.

Just two days before Christmas in 2022, Laura and Mike were sitting in their living room, lit up by their Christmas tree, when they noticed their tree caught on fire.

“He and I were both listening to audio books, and I looked up to get my latte that I just made on the table, and I saw the tree on fire,” said Laura. “It took me a little time to get his attention and then it had grown much bigger.”

The couple tried to retrieve their extinguisher from the garage but could not get any of the doors to open.

After other attempts to put it out on their own proved unsuccessful, they knew they needed to call for help.

“By then the fire had really gotten out of control and we were just focused on getting out of the house,” said Laura.

According to Laura’s husband Mike, the fire investigation revealed the cause of the blaze was an old, string of lights the couple had used to string their tree.

“We were right next to the tree, and it didn’t matter that we were right next to the tree, it still went on fire, and we still didn’t have time, it happened in seconds,” she explained.

Now, the two hand out ‘home fire safety’ sheets to ensure that everyone knows the risks of a house fire and what to do when an emergency arises.

“This time of year, people pull out the box of Christmas lights and they might be lights they’ve been using for years and years and older lights compared to what we have now,” said Knapp. “Those older ones can give off more heat than the newer ones, so people get complacent because they think they’ve been using them for years and years and that there’s no problem with them. As they age, if wires start to fray, or other things start to deteriorate with the bulbs and those types of things, they can suddenly become a fire hazard.”

While old lights were the reason for Laura and Mike’s home fire, many holiday decorations are a fire risk too.

“Keep all of your trees and holiday decorations away from heat sources, anything that can generate heat, and make sure any electrical components of decorations or that you might put on your home are in good working order,” said Knapp.

Knapp also recommends having a working, accessible fire extinguisher stored in a neutral location in case you find yourself with a fire.

After rebuilding parts of their home, Laura and Mike now have an extinguisher on each floor of their house.

Christmas may hold traumatic memories for the couple, but they say planning can not only save your holiday, but your families lives as well.

“Enjoy your family and your friends for the holidays because we didn’t get to do that,” said Laura. “We did, but not in the way we thought, you know? Have a plan, use tonight to talk about a plan with your kids and your pets.”

If you ever find yourself in an emergency, exit the home as quickly as possible and never go back inside. Always be sure to call for help immediately.