As the weather starts to turn colder (at least here in the Northern states), our thoughts turn to the holidays and all the joys of the season. Again, not to be a Grinch this season (see my previous article entitled “Subrogating Christmas” that discusses the dangers of real Christmas trees and holiday lights, with some subrogation tips), but there are additional perils to investigate and subrogate in these early Winter months.
Artificial Christmas Trees
While the question of whether one should use a real or artificial Christmas tree may be an ongoing debate among some families, to stay safe, similar care should be taken whether you choose an artificial or a real Christmas tree. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, in 2016, consumers purchased 18.6 million artificial trees. Back in 2010, Underwriters Laboratories announced new flammability requirements for full-size (over 30 inches and under 12 feet high), pre-lit artificial trees. Under those standards, an artificial tree needed to limit its contribution to fire growth due to a small fire (the Underwriters Laboratory goal was to allow a family more time to vacate the premises in the event of a fire). Previously, artificial trees could act like a real tree or even worse in contributing to a fire. Artificial trees should be inspected prior to use for worn, broken, or cracked lamp holders, frayed or bare wires and loose connections light strings. They should be located at least three feet away from a heat source, such as a radiator, heat vent, or fireplace.
Speaking of fireplaces, families often use their fireplace for the first (and sometimes only) time during the holidays. NFPA 211 sets the standards for chimneys, fireplaces, vents, and solid fuel-burning appliances, and should be consulted whenever there is an investigation into these types of fires. Chimney, fireplaces, and vents should be inspected at least once a year, with cleaning, maintenance, and repairs performed as necessary.
There are three levels of inspection. The necessary level of inspection is based on the circumstances surrounding the construction of the chimney or fireplace. A Level I inspection is the most basic inspection that examines readily accessible areas of the chimney, structure, and flue, and should occur annually. A Level II inspection would also include clearances and other structural components, and may involve the removal of connected appliances. Notably, a Level II inspection should occur whenever there is a new or changed condition of service within the chimney. Finally, a Level III inspection is the most invasive. A Level III inspection should occur when the inspection of the construction of the chimney is deemed critical for renewed or continued use and may involve accessing concealed areas of the chimney.
The U.S. Fire Administration and the NFPA reports that the top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Day, and candles start two out of five home decoration structure fires. Candles should be kept 12 inches away from other combustible materials and should never be left unattended.
Subrogation Recovery Tips
As with any investigation into the cause of a fire, care must be taken in the initial inspection to identify and recover all potential devices that may have caused the fire. These sources can include decorative lights, extension cords, surge protectors, timers, and electrical outlets.
An origin and cause expert will investigate the fire and burn patterns to determine the origin of the fire and any sources that potentially caused of the fire. Any product that may have potentially caused the fire should be retained as instructed by applicable NFPA guidelines. If possible, manufacturers and service providers should be invited to inspect the loss site, but, at the very least, all potential devices that caused the fire should be retained for further inspection and everything should be well documented.
Take note of any markings or labels that may be found on products involved in the fire. For example, indoor-use-only decorative light strings are marked with Underwriters Laboratory’s green holographic label; indoor-or-outdoor-use light strings are marked with Underwriters Laboratory’s red holographic label. Be wary of counterfeit identification labels.
Have a safe and happy holiday season! If you should have any questions regarding this article or subrogation in general, please contact Gary Wickert at [email protected].