As people prepare to stay warm and festive during the holidays, Vancouver firefighters want to send out a reminder that heat sources, lights, and electrical equipment can generate unexpected fires. 

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services say they see an increase in home fires this time of year, and the second biggest cause of them is electrical fires. 

The fire service Thursday demonstrated how quickly a Christmas tree can burn.

"A dry tree in a matter of seconds can burst into flames, and spread the fire to things around it like curtains or furnishings," said Vancouver Fire Department Capt. Jonathan Gormick.

Best practices

Gormick urges people to employ common sense when using electrical appliances and decorations, and make use of the fire services' safety tips:

  • If you have a freshly cut Christmas tree, keep it well watered. 
  • If you buy an artificial tree, be sure it is fire retardant.
  • Check Christmas lights for breaks, exposed wires, or loose connections.
  • Use either ULC, CSA, or ETEL approved electrical devices.
  • Keep flammable items at least one metre from space heaters, and never leave them unattended.
  • Never use lighted candles on or near a Christmas tree, and never go to bed with candles burning.
  • Test your smoke alarm once per month, and change the battery once per year.
  • Sleep with your bedroom door closed, because smoke can kill you before flames get near you.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher around, and learn how to use it.

Gormick says house fires are easily handled by fire services, but if people don't have working smoke alarms there is a decreased chance of them getting out alive. 

"A fire can start, smoulder and if people are sleeping, they're very quickly overcome by carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases that are given off by fire, way before the fire would reach them and they don't have time to wake up and escape," said Gormick. 

He says if people are not sure if their smoke alarm works or have other safety questions, they can call 3-1-1 and book a free home safety check with fire services, who will install a free smoke alarm if needed.