As House Fires Increase During Cold Weather Months

As weather and human activities change with the seasons of the year, so does the incidence, cause and severity of fires during the cold weather months.

Cold winter weather increases indoor activities and the need for heating, which brings about the peak period of heating structure fires. The use of candles and extra electric lighting may be used to celebrate other events. In the winter, structure fires increase, although total fires decrease. A substantial portion of the structure fire increase is caused by heating fires. Winter also sees an increase in outside fires caused by open flame−fires ignited by matches, open fires (including campfires), and embers. In fact, open flame is the second leading cause of outside winter fires, after incendiary or suspicious fires, possibly the by−product of fires initially lighted for warmth.

As house fires increase during  cold weather months the Fire-ED Interactive Community recommends taking extra precautions towards eliminating preventable fires. Call your your local fire department to provide your family with proper education on fire safety in your home, not just at winter, but all year long.

Second week of January is historically the worst for fire deaths

Insurance companies and fire departments actually prepare for more fires during December, January and February. Fire departments and insurance companies understand the true nature and scope of seasonal fires, so check in to see if the public education programs in your community are geared towards seasonal fire problems. Following  are some of the common problems and tips for you and your family to be aware of:


Fires caused by candle use are common during the holiday and winter season. If you burn candles, make sure they aren’t close to objects that will catch on fire. Don’t leave burning candles unattended, and keep them away from children.


Cooking is a relaxing and fun activity that brings friends and family together. It’s also a major cause of home fires and injuries. Be alert while you are cooking, especially if you’re using high heat such as in frying. Keep flammable items away from the cooking area and be sure to turn off all cooking equipment.


A common contributor to house fires is an electrical failure or malfunction. The leading areas of electrical fires are bedroom, kitchen, attic and garage. Overloading circuits is a known common hazard as is the clothes dryer. Make sure to clean the air duct regularly and clean the lint screen after each use.

Garage fires. 

Fires beginning in the garage are also a top source of house fires in winter, due to highly flammable materials stored. Ideally, these materials should be stored in a shed away from the home. To avoid a garage fire, install a heat alarm that will sound if the temperature rises too high.


Space and baseboard heaters are common causes of home fires. Failure to properly clean the heaters is a leading contributor. Placing objects that burn too close to the heating equipment or placing the heaters too close to flammable objects is a leading cause of fire. If your home is heated with baseboard heaters, make sure furniture is a reasonable distance from them. Check often to see that nothing has fallen close to the heaters.

At Fire-ED we encourage families to utilize the following safety precautions to avoid common winter fire hazards and help prevent fire-related fatalities:

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from a furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Check electrical cords for space heaters and other appliances to make sure they are not frayed or damaged.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, including the basement.
  • Test your smoke alarm batteries monthly and replace them at least once a year.
  • Replace smoke alarms that are 10 years old or older.
  • Make a home fire escape plan. Have two ways out of every room and a designated outside meeting place.


  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
  • Install wood burning stoves following manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional do the installation. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Install and maintain CO alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.

It is the Fire-ED Interactive Community’s mission to eliminate preventable fires and help reduce the impact of fire related injuries, fire fatalities and loss of property. With the growing number of house fires this winter season we  hope you will  find value in these tips and recommendations for heating your home in the winter. Please share this page with your friends and loved ones.

About the author: Tracy Last Verified icon 5

I've been an entrepreneur my whole adult life, starting out providing educational materials for prevention programs. Now, I am a Social Entrepreneur, Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at Fire-ED Interactive Community For Eliminating Preventable Fires. Having worked closely with many fire and life safety educators in my 25 year career I became peculiar passionate of the role they play as teachers of prevention education. This education, while critical, is not being taught in schools or most homes. With fire dept budgets cuts it's always public education first to go. This poses a risk to public safety therefore it is important to step up as a community to improve and continue these programs.

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