• Christmas Disasters and How to Avoid Them

    By Beth Buck



    Anything that has the words “Christmas” and “Disaster” in the same breath sounds like the basis for a charming family movie with plenty of hijinks. Ah, if only Christmas disasters were solely the stuff of film! Any occasion that causes you to utter the words, “everything is falling to place and it's going to be perfect” almost guarantees that something will go wrong.

    We're only five days out from Christmas this year, so hopefully that's enough time to avert some of the more classic disasters.


    Children and Trees. I have five children, so I can say with authority that YES, when it comes to Christmas, children ARE a disaster. Any time you're doing something Christmassy with a kid and they say “uh-oh,” it is never good. Pinterest abounds with good ideas for keeping small children away from your tree. And unless they're three or four (or sometimes older!) you must keep the children away from the tree. Some people enclose the tree within a circle of connected baby gates, others don't decorate the bottom two and-a-half feet of the tree. For the last several years, my family has used a short tree and have placed it on a high table. (A more suitable tree will be forthcoming once the baby has learned not to knock things over.) And speaking of knocking things over, if you have any expensive Venetian glass ornaments in the same house with children under the age of eleven, you can just kiss them good-bye right now, because they won't last until New Year's.

    Burning Christmas Trees. Few things in life are as satisfying as a live Christmas tree. The pine smell indoors is so refreshing and “Christmassy” when it's snowing outside. Tree fires are a legitimate concern, however. If you don't keep your live tree adequately hydrated (water it every day), it can be a huge fire hazard. Also exercise caution and common sense t in regards to electrical cords and twinkle lights. Remove the tree from your home shortly after Christmas or when it becomes dry.

    Clogged Chimneys. (I'm looking at you, Santa.) Back in the day when houses were heated exclusively with coal and firewood, chimneys required regular sweeping. With the advent of gas furnaces, the wood stove has more or less fallen out of favor and fires in the fireplace are more form ambiance than for warmth. You will be able to tell if your flue is blocked if smoke is unable to vent through the chimney and instead backs up into the house. Check out this helpful tutorial on how to clear a blocked chimney on your own.

    The Dangers of Outdoor Christmas Tree Lights. What is Christmas without putting up outdoor lights? As delightful as the effect of lights on the roof may be, you can't ignore the attendant risk of falling off the roof in order to put them there. I can think of at least three charming family Christmas films that feature this very scenario as a punchline. It is less amusing when you are the one falling. Use caution when decorating your home, and be sure to get a buddy to keep your ladder steady.


    What other Christmas Disasters have you experienced? What would you tell others who are at risk for the same disaster? Let us know in the comments!


    Beth Buck HeadshotBeth Buck has been involved with emergency preparedness since her very earliest years. She enjoys hiking, martial arts, reading, and writing about food storage. Beth lives in the Intermountain West with her family.



  • Preparing for Holiday Hazards

    By Melissa Rivera



    The two most common days for home fires are Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Carbon monoxide poisoning rates jump during winter months.  Deaths from heart problems also increase during the holidays; the number of cardiac deaths is highest on December 25, according to a study in the journal Circulation.

    December brings many joys, from first snow to holidays. But it also brings winter and holiday hazards.

    Like a jump in home fires. The largest causes of home fires, by far, are cooking and heating. Don’t leave the kitchen when you’re cooking. Yes, that’s way easier said than done. At least set a timer on food and keep kids three feet from the stove, suggests Ulster Insurance Services. And keep a fire extinguisher accessible.

    “In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a major fire,” according to “In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.”

    Take time to make a family communication plan and a fire escape plan, then review them both. Make a designated meeting place outside the home and include two exits for each room. Another gift idea, courtesy of a collapsible ladder if you have a multi-story home.

    Whether you use candles for emergency light or decoration, make sure they’re on a flat, steady surface within a cleared area at least a foot wide in every direction, suggests Ulster Insurance Services. Don’t leave candles unattended and extinguish them before you leave a room or go to sleep. recommends you have a generator, wood- or gas-burning fireplace or other device for heat during power outages. If you have one, make sure it’s in good repair. Before you burn your first Yule log, get the chimney cleaned and inspected – an annual chore, according to And check the flue monthly for blockages. (Gotta make sure Santa didn’t get stuck.) Use a fireplace screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and large enough to stop all sparks. (Santa will still make it.)

    Never use a device that burns gasoline, propane, charcoal or natural gas in an enclosed or even partially-enclosed space, like a room or garage, according to In fact, keep a generator outside and at least 20 feet away from doors, windows and vents. A blocked fireplace or a generator that doesn’t vent away from a home can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning killed 393 people in 2015, 36 percent of them during the three winter months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    If you use any device that burns fuel for heating, have a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home. Also have at least one smoke detector on every floor. Test alarms at least twice a year and replace those more than 10 years old, Ulster Insurance Services suggests. (Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are great gifts.)

    Make sure you have fuel for your heating device. A wood stove won’t help if, in the middle of a storm, you run out of wood.

    If you don’t have an emergency heating device, stock up on extra blankets, sleeping bags and coats, suggests Insulate your home by weather-stripping doors and window sills and by putting plastic on windows.

    But don’t do what my family did. I asked my son to put plastic window film on our windows. He did one. It looks like the window is enclosed in a billowing tent. I told him I’d help with the rest.

    Winter storms could entail a lot of shoveling. Dress right for the job, suggests, in multiple layers of loose-fitting warm clothes rather than one heavy layer. Make sure the outer layer is water repellent and keeps heat in. Wear mittens, a hat and scarf.

    Be careful on icy or snow-covered walkways.

    A combination of cold weather and exercise is hard on the heart, according to the American Heart Association. If you have any cardiovascular concerns, lift smaller loads of snow, take frequent breaks and don’t eat or drink alcohol right before or after you shovel snow.

    Yes, you’re going crazy preparing for the holidays. Still, take time to prepare for winter hazards. Preventable fires, hospital visits or deaths make for a lousy holiday season.


    Melissa Rivera is a jack-of-all-trades who is master of none. She has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Holiday Hazards

  • This Christmas Season, Work Together to be Prepared


    Christmas is a time of giving and reaching out to others. People from all over have others on their minds as they search for the perfect gift for their family and friends. Homeless shelters see a surge in service from local community members during this time, as does other charitable giving.

    When it comes to emergency preparedness, reaching out to others is just as important. Just as you might donate your time or resources to charities, working with family, friends, and neighbors in times of disaster helps strengthen them in areas in which you yourself are strong. And, as Flora Edwards once said, “In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever mood we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.”

    Think about it. A four-legged chair is much more stable than a monopod stool. By yourself, you can get by and support yourself. But, if somebody tries to push you off your stool, they will most likely succeed. If you’re sitting on a chair and someone tries to push you off, the base underneath you is much more solid and will give you a better chance at standing your ground.

    The same thing goes for emergency preparedness. Working with your neighbors, friends, and family gives you a support group in which each person brings different skills and services to the table. A neighbor with a chainsaw will be a valuable asset when the next storm blows over your trees. Also, your truck can help haul away debris from your neighbor’s home.

    When you prepare for emergencies, think about how your preparations can help others. Your emergency food supply is more than just for disasters. Maybe your neighbor just lost his job. By having some extra food on hand, you could either invite them over for a meal to help them out, or give it to them with a smile. And who knows? Maybe the next time you have your own personal disaster, your neighbor will come to your aid.

    In the spirit of Christmas, take some time and visit your neighbors. Bring them cookies or a card. Thank them for their contributions to the community. Get to know them. Then, as the new year approaches, make it a goal to become acquainted with other members of your community. Building strong relationships will not just benefit your life now, but will also help you succeed when times get tough.



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