Home for the Holidays Fire Safety

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Survive the Holidays

We believe the best way to keep our families safe from fire is to help you understand common risks and reduce them in your home. Every year in Ontario, tragic fatal fires occur during the holiday season. Give the gift of fire safety, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in good working order. Then review your home fire escape plan. All members of your household should know two ways out. Here are our firefighters' top tips to keep you safe at home:

Fire safety at home

A fire can spread quickly through your home

Survive the Holidays

We believe the best way to keep our families safe from fire is to help you understand common risks and reduce them in your home. Every year in Ontario, tragic fatal fires occur during the holiday season. Give the gift of fire safety, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in good working order. Then review your home fire escape plan. All members of your household should know two ways out. Here are our firefighters' top tips to keep you safe at home:

Fire safety at home

A fire can spread quickly through your home, leaving you as little as one or two minutes to escape safely once a smoke alarm sounds. A closed door may help slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire.

What if there is a fire...

Single detached and semi-detached households

Install smoke alarms outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home. Get everyone together in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and check all possible exits. Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors.

Escape plan

Be your family’s superhero. Make a home escape plan, include your outside meeting place and practice it today!

Download this handy home escape plan guide.


Multi-residential (apartments, condominiums) If you live in an apartment building or a high rise condominium, your escape plan isn’t the same as a house. Here’s what you need to know:

Be prepared. Knowledge saves lives, though fires are rare in newer buildings.

1. Know all of the exits from your floor, in case the nearest one is blocked by fire or smoke.

2. Talk to your superintendent and/or condo board and know the emergency procedures outlined in the building's fire safety plan. Learn about the fire safety features of the building - fire alarms, voice communication and evacuation procedures.

3. Make sure all exit and stairwell doors are clearly marked, are not locked or blocked by security bars and are clear of clutter. Report any issues to the building superintendent or the fire department.

Non-combustible high-rise buildings are designed to be more fire-safe than the average single-family dwelling. Floors and ceilings are constructed with fire-resistant materials and are separated into fire compartments. However, in the event of a fire, there are a number of things you can do to protect your family and your property. Learn more about emergency procedures below:

If there is a fire in your unit

Tell everyone in your unit to leave

  • Close, but don’t lock, all doors behind you.
  • Pull the fire alarm on your floor and yell “fire!”
  • Leave the building using the nearest exit stairway.
  • DO NOT USE THE ELEVATOR
  • Call the fire department at 9-1-1 from a safe location. Never assume this has been done.
  • Meet family members in a pre-determined meeting place outside.

If the alarm goes off

  • Don't panic; decide immediately if you are to leave or stay in your unit. Usually the best thing to do is leave the building as soon as possible. If you do not or can not leave the building immediately, you must protect yourself from smoke.
  • Keep smoke from entering your suite. Use duct tape to seal cracks around the door and place wet towels at the bottom. Seal vents or air ducts the same way.
  • If smoke starts to enter your suite (and you are unable to evacuate):
    • Call the fire department at 9-1-1 and tell them where you are and then move to the balcony. Close the doors behind you.
    • If you don’t have a balcony, go to the most smoke-free room, close the door and seal it with wide tape and towels. If necessary, open the window for fresh air.
    • Show emergency personnel where you are by hanging a sheet from the window or balcony.
    • Keep low to the floor where the air is cleaner and listen for instructions from authorities.

Though it's unlikely that you will have to worry about a fire in your condo, it's important to familiarize yourself with the fire safety plan specific to your building. Talk to your building superintendent, property manager or condo board.

Holiday lights safety

Holiday lights

Few traditions are more beloved than stringing lights. While lights can certainly put you in the holiday spirit, they can also be one of the most dangerous decorations. In fact, holiday lights are responsible for around 40% of Christmas tree fires. Before decking the halls, check all sets of lights.

Holiday lights safety tips

  • Never plug more than three strands into one extension cord.
  • Never string together multiple extension cords.
  • Use light clips instead of nails or screws -- as these items can conduct electricity.
  • Never run lights through doors or windows.
  • Keep your tree properly hydrated; dry and dying trees are more likely to result in fires.
  • Consider using flameless candles.
  • Check cords closely for damage or frayed wiring, throw away any sets that are damaged or not working properly.
  • Keep your lights on a timer, or turn them off when you leave your home.
  • Consider using LED lights. They save money on energy bills, use less energy and are less likely to start a fire from emitting too much heat. Learn more about light safety tips.

Fireplace and candle safety tips

There’s nothing more appealing on a cold winter’s night than a blazing fire place and the warm glow of candles. But open flame can be an invitation to disaster. Please treat fire with respect this holiday season. Never leave your fireplace unattended and always use a fireplace screen. Don’t burn wrapping paper or ribbons in your fireplace. Make sure candles are in a secure holder and place them out of the reach of children.

Holiday candle

  • When you go out, blow the candle out!
  • Always extinguish candles when you leave your home or intend on being out of the room for an extended period of time.
  • Keep decorative candles and/or menorahs at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn and keep them out of reach from children and pets.
  • Place candles in a sturdy non-combustible holder on flat surfaces.
  • Never put real candles on Christmas trees.
  • Consider using a flameless candle (such as LED) whenever possible.

Your Christmas trees

Christmas tree

If you decide to get a live tree, be sure it’s watered sufficiently and frequently. If you opt for an artificial tree, ensure that it is flame retardant.

Place trees as far away from heat sources as possible, such as fireplaces or space heaters.

Once the holiday season has ended, or your live tree becomes too dry or dead, dispose of it right away as it can quickly become highly flammable.

Learn more about Christmas tree safety tips.

Did you know?

The risk of home fires is highest during the holiday season, so test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms to make sure they are all working, and check the expiry date on all of your life safety devices. This is even more critical to do during this time of year. It's a sound we can all live with!

Home Fire Timeline

You need to be responsible for your family’s fire safety. Fire moves faster than you do.

Don't let your habits get the best of you!

Smoking and alcohol

Smoking is the leading cause of fatal fires during the holidays. All too often alcohol is involved.

Butt out cannabis, cigarettes and cigars in large, deep ashtrays. Please drink responsibly.

Smoking is particularly dangerous when you are tired or have consumed alcohol. After a party, check behind chairs and sofa cushions for cigarette butts and other smoke materials before going to bed.

Smokers can fall asleep with lit smoking materials that can burn through the covers of a cushion or mattress, which may smolder for several hours. These hidden fires produce toxic gases that can overcome the victim who may never awake. Markham Fire recommends if you have smokers in your home to ask them to smoke outside.

It's easy to get distracted when you are cooking!

Chicken holiday dinner

Always watch what you are cooking. Stay in the kitchen when you cook. If you must leave, turn off the stove. Unattended cooking is the most common cause of home fires.

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, boiling, grilling or broiling food and check it regularly. Consider using a timer to remind you to check on the food. If you must leave, turn off the stove.
  • Have a kid-free zone, or at least 3 feet (1 metre) space around the stove and areas where hot food or drinks are prepared or carried.
  • Keep anything that burns - cooking utensils, dishcloths, paper towels and pot holders a safe distance from the stove.

Season's Greetings

Snowman scene

May the season surround you with beauty and fill you with peace.


Ask a Public Education Officer

Have a question about fire prevention and safety? Ask one of Markham's Public Education Officers right here. 

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Page last updated: 01 February 2021, 14:34