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Holidays leave homes vulnerable to burglaries, fires

November 21, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu
  • Christmas lights and trees are pretty, but they can be a fire hazard, according to a new report.
Christmas lights and trees are pretty, but they can be a fire hazard, according… (Oli Scarff / Getty Images )

It's the season for joy and feasting … and for burglaries, house fires and other property problems caused by careless homeowners, according to a new study.

The mass exodus of Americans from their homes as they travel to visit relatives leaves their properties vulnerable to the kind of high jinks common in the “Home Alone” movies. The difference? Adorable preteen Macaulay Culkin isn’t around to keep the bad guys at bay.

Nearly 60% of the roughly 2,000 adults surveyed by Harris Interactive don’t follow common safety precautions, according to a report commissioned by Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods.

Many leave at least one door or window unlocked, or broadcast their departure on Twitter and Facebook or let their mail and newspapers pile up. Nearly 4 in 10 fail to tell a neighbor to keep a vigilant eye out; 19% hide the house key somewhere nearby.

Taking advantage of frazzled holiday trekkers, burglars made 400,000 hits in November and December last year, according to the FBI. About 3.37 million Southland residents are expected to travel for Turkey Day, according to the Auto Club of Southern California.

But homeowners don’t even need to be out of town to have the holidays turn into a wrecking ball. With 84% of households decorating for the season, burning candles are often left unattended, dried-out trees (read, fire hazards) are put out and fires are lighted under chimneys that haven’t been inspected.

Sixteen percent of  homeowners put up Christmas lights without first inspecting the wires for fraying or loose connections. A third connect multiple extension cords together – causing a dangerous daisy chain begging for a power overload.

Between 2005 and 2009, Christmas trees caused an average of 240 home fires a year that required fire department attention, according to the National Fire Protection Assn. The conflagrations killed 13 civilians, injured 27 and resulted in $16.7 million in direct property damage each year.

A third of the infernos were sparked by electrical failures or malfunctions; 18% were intentionally set, likely during disposal.

During the same period, 150 blazes annually were ignited by holiday lights and decorative lighting, leading to $8.5 million in damage a year, according to the fire group. And over a three-year period in the early 2000s, there were 5,800 fall-related injuries each year between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31 related to holiday decorating.


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