While decorations and great food might seem like the most important aspects of holiday entertaining, don’t overlook the safety of your guests.

Follow some simple safety tips and make it a safe party:

  • If you plan on having smokers at your party, use large, deep, non-tip ashtrays. Empty ashtrays often, and wet the contents before disposing of them.
  • Always have non-alcoholic beverages available for party guests and serve something to eat before serving alcoholic beverages. High protein foods stay in the stomach longer and slow the absorption of alcohol into the system. Don’t let your guests drink and drive.
  • Test your smoke alarms and tell guests about your home fire escape plan.
  • Keep fireplaces clean and never burn trash or paper, especially wrapping paper.
  • Remember that two of every five home decoration fires are started by candles and nearly half of holiday decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source (NFPA.org).

At many parties, outdoor fireplaces and chimineas on the patio are a favorite. They can add ambiance as well as heat to a cool evening. When it comes to starting these fires, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep the fire small; the bigger the fire, the bigger the chance for disaster.
  • Your pit or chiminea should be at least 10 feet away from any structure or combustible surface. Before lighting, check the weather forecast. Windy conditions can blow embers. Also, be aware of burn bans or ordinances in your town or county.
  • Clear the area around your pit or chiminea – leaves or other dry materials can lead to a fire accidentally spreading. Always have a water container nearby and a garden hose before starting the fire.
  • You can use a crumpled piece of paper or a store-bought fire starter in the pit. As the fire begins to burn, you can add sticks or a log or two. Never use an accelerant like gasoline as it can increase the chances of your clothes catching on fire or the fire spreading rapidly.
  • When extinguishing the fire, spread the ashes over a large surface area and let them cool for a bit. Then take water and pour it over the ashes, but still monitor it. Remember, the fire can still flare up in the night and even up to three days later.

Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue.