Bookmark and Share

Safe Holidays, at Home and Away

December 2018

California has seen unprecedented devastation in 2018 from fires and mudslides, and our hearts (and help) go out to all those who are still dealing with the aftermath of devastating fires. Along with our fervent wishes for a safe and happy holiday season for all, here are some tips to help make those wishes come true.

At Home

Alarms Save Lives!

Be sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, in every bedroom, and outside all sleeping areas. Test them once a month.

If you have fuel-burning appliances, including wood, natural gas, propane, or heating oil, or if you have an attached garage, you should have a carbon monoxide alarm.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless, ordorless, and tasteless poison gas that causes illness and can result in death when inhaled.  In the home, it can come from any fuel-burning appliance that is malfunctioning or improperly installed, as well as vehicles, generators, and other combustion engines running in an attached garage, a blocked chimney or flue, or a cracked or loose furnace exchanger.

It's important to have these products installed by a professional, since proper installation, ventilatation, and maintenance will reroute any carbon monoxide emissions out of your home to keep your family safe.

Fireplaces and Wood-Burning Stoves

Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can help keep you warm and cozy. Following important tips and rules you can keep safe too.

  • Preventive maintenance
    • Have your fireplace or wood-burning stove checked every year.
    • Have your chimney or stovepipe inspected every year and cleaned as needed.
      A common cause of fireplace and wood stove fires is creosote buildup. Regular inspections are a great way to prevent fires.
      Note: creosote can be eliminated by maintaining a big, hot fire instead of a small, smoky, or wet fire, which leads to creosote buildup.
    • Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney. Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out.
      Even if your fireplace is gas-fueled it needs to be checked.
  • Keep the hearth area clear
    • Furniture and other items should be at least 3 feet away from the hearth.
  • Use the right equipment
    • Choose the right wood-burning stove.  
    • Use an appropriate fireplace shield (usually metal mesh or glass screens).
    • Hearth area should be a non-combustible material, such as brick.
    • Never install carpet directly in front of a fireplace or stove.
    • For wood-burning stoves, always adjust air vents before going to bed and before leaving the house.
      Many fires related to stoves occur when air vents are forgotten or not monitored.

  • Start the fire properly
    • Check that the damper is open.
    • Never use any kind of accelerant, such as lighter fluid, gasoline, or diesel when lighting a fire inside of the house.
    • You can use crumpled up paper and/or other tinder and a mixture of small wood pieces and larger pieces as the smaller ones start.
    • Do not use charcoal in your fireplace or wood-burning stove. Charcoal is made for outdoor barbecue grills and can also release harmful carbon monoxide into your home.
  • Keep small children away
    • Never leave small children unattended around fireplaces or wood-burning stoves for even a few seconds!
  • Use the right fuel
    • Use well-seasoned quality firewood. This will help to ensure your fireplace or wood-burning stove burns cleanly and more efficiently.
    • Avoid burning wood that is green or wet. Green or wet wood will produce a lot of smoke and build up creosote, which, as noted above, can cause fires.
  • Discard ashes safely
    • ​Many house fires are caused from incorrect disposal of ashes.
      • Don’t let ashes from previous fires build up in the bottom of your fireplace or your wood stove. Anything more than 1 inch of ash could lead to smokier fires, as it becomes more difficult for oxygen to find its way to the wood.
      • Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place in a tightly covered metal container that you keep at least 10 feet away from your home and other buildings.
      • Douse and saturate ashes with water.
      • Do not place ashes into a paper bag or cardboard box, and never empty into a trash can.
  • Be sure your insurance company knows if you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, and notify them if you install one.
    • Click here for “Burn Wise” tips from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to learn how to save money, reduce air pollution, and protect your health while using your wood-burning appliance.

NOTE! You can save money while upgrading your old wood-burning device through the Wood Stove Change-Out program!  The Monterey Bay Air Resources District through California Climate Investments is offering incentives from $1,000 to $3,500 to residents of Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey Counties to replace old wood stoves or fireplace inserts with cleaner burning alternatives. Open hearth fireplaces also qualify for the program. Click here to learn more.

Space Heaters

Portable space heaters can help supplement your heat, but they can be dangerous if not used properly. Here are some tips for keeping you and your loved ones safe:

  • Space heaters must have adequate safety features; be sure yours is listed by a qualified testing laboratory like UL.
  • Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use.
    • If frayed, worn, or damaged, do not use.
    • Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you're leaving a room or going to sleep.
  • Never use space heaters to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing, or thaw pipes.
  • Keep them at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire.
    • Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
  • Place heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place them on tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
  • Always unplug and store the heater safely when not in use.

Christmas Tree Fire Safety

Follow these guidelines to pick your tree, set it up, and decorate, to help keep your celebrations merry!

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • Place the tree at least 3 feet away from any heat source.
  • Cut 1” to 2” off the bottom of the trunk before placing in the stand and put the tree in water immediately.
  • Add water to the tree stand every day.
  • Make sure your tree is not blocking an exit.

Note: Artificial trees are less flammable than live trees and don’t require water. Look for the label: “Fire Resistant.” (This does not mean the tree cannot catch fire, but it is more resistant to catching fire.)

After Christmas

Remove your tree immediately after the holidays.

Dry trees are a fire danger: do not leave in your home or garage; do not place outside against the house. Check for local recycling options.


  • Use only lights that are approved by a qualified testing organization like UL.
  • Use the right lights for indoors or outdoors.
  • Remove and replace any lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. (Do not try to repair!)
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands to safely connect.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets.
  • Never leave a lighted tree unattended. Always turn off or unplug lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

Tip: LED lights produce almost no heat, making them safe to touch and greatly reducing the risk of fire. They are also shatterproof and shock resistant.

Going Away?

  • Talk with your family about who to call, where to meet, and what to pack for an emergency this holiday season.
  • Fill out an emergency communications plan card. Give a copy to family members and emergency contacts.
  • Leave copies of your passports, credit cards, and any other types of identification with your emergency contact(s). Keep a separate set of copies in your own luggage.
  • Traveling with kids? Remember to include emergency items for them when you pack.
  • Traveling with pets? Add a few emergency items for your pets, like water and food. Pet travel tip: Pack something familiar like a toy or blanket to help alleviate stress.

Prepare Your Home

  • Find ways to make your house looked lived in.
    • Stop newspaper, mail (or have them picked up).
    • Put at least one light on a timer.
  • Arrange for someone check on your home periodically while you are away.
  • Unplug small appliances and electronic devices.
  • Make sure smoke detectors are working properly.
  • If you have pets, arrange for someone to care for them. This person can check on your home and gather mail while you are out as well.
  • If you have a security system, be sure that it is working properly. Check with your alarm monitoring company for safety tips for your system and let them know you will be away. If you have a DIY home security system with optional monitoring, consider adding monitoring to your plan for the time in which you’ll be away.

On the Road

  • Have your car inspected and/or serviced before you leave. Be sure to have your tires checked and properly inflated.
  • Be sure your car is equipped with necessary tools, such as a spare tire, jack, and jumper cables. Also, be prepared for first aid and other types of emergencies. Keep the emergency kit in your car as well.
  • Remember to pack an emergency supply kit.   
  • Check the weather and be prepared for driving conditions
  • Allow plenty of time to get to your destination to avoid being in a rush.
  • Make frequent rest stops.
  • Stay hydrated.

If You’re Flying

  • Review Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security screening info and check out their travel tips.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap or use antibacterial hand sanitizer.

Looking for more information? Please explore these valuable resources:


Get the whole family involved! Click the images below for resources and information.

Resources in other languages

Click Here to Access the Feature of the Month Archive