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Stay Safe During the Holiday Season

A Fire Safety Checklist

A cozy fire, candlelight, the scent of a newly cut pine tree and glowing colored lights - the holiday season wouldn't seem festive without them. Unfortunately, these cherished elements of the winter holidays carry fire risks.

Fire officials recommend these safety tips:

Christmas Trees

A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree. To check for freshness, remember: A fresh tree is green.

Fresh needles are hard to pull from branches. Fresh needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin. A shower of falling needles shows that the tree is too dry.

Once you have chosen a fresh tree, follow these tips for keeping it safe:

  • Cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for better water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with widespread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors.
  • Keep your tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators. Remember, heated rooms rapidly dry out trees, creating a fire hazard.
  • Place tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. Use thin guy-wires to secure a large tree to walls or ceiling. These wires are almost invisible.
  • Dispose of your tree when needles begin to fall. Trees drop their needles when they become too dry and thus too flammable.

Artificial trees should be made of fire-resistant material; look for a statement specifying this protection. Keep artificial trees away from heat sources.

Candles

Candle fires are a growing problem during the holiday season. The popularity of candles has led many people to forget that a lighted candle is an open flame and a serious fire hazard. Follow these tips:

  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens, paper and decorations.
  • Use lighted candles only when you are in the room to supervise them.
  • Use non-flammable holders.
  • Place candles where they cannot be knocked down.
  • Do not light too many candles. It's too easy to forget them and leave them burning after you leave the house or go to bed.

Fireplaces

  • Remove all greens, boughs and paper decorations from the fireplace area before lighting a fire. Check to see that the flue is open.
  • Keep a screen before the fireplace when a fire is burning.
  • Be sure the fireplace is cold before closing the flue. This could result in a buildup of deadly carbon monoxide in your home.
  • Never use your fireplace as an incinerator to burn wrapping or evergreen boughs.  These can burn suddenly and rapidly and cause a flash fire.

Decorative Lights

  • Indoors or outdoors, use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the label from an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratory or Factory Mutual.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls or other supports to protect from wind damage. Direct outside bulbs downward to keep moisture out of sockets, and use ornament hooks - not tails or tacks - to hang lights.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Arrange bulbs so that they touch as few needles as possible.
  • Use miniature bulbs for the most energy-efficient Christmas lighting.  A strand of 35 miniatures uses less than 20 watts of electricity, while single standard bulb uses five to seven watts per bulb.
  • Use flame-resistant or non-combustible decorations. Hang shiny ornaments to reflect lights so you do not need as many lights.
  • Don't leave decorative lights on when you're out or asleep.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree could become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and any person touching it could be electrocuted. Instead, use colored spotlights above or beside the tree.
  • Keep bubbling lights away from children. Children may be tempted to break the candle-shaped glass, which can cut, and attempt to drink the liquid, which contains a hazardous chemical.

 Paper and Trimmings

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.
  • Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or non-leaded materials. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested.
  • Remove all wrapping papers from tree and fireplace areas immediately after presents are opened and small parts are out of children's reach.
  • Avoid trimmings that look like candy or food. A child might be tempted to eat them.
  • When making paper decorations, use materials labeled non-combustible or flame-resistant.
  • Never place trimmings near open flames or electrical connections.

For additional information, visit the U.S. Fire Administration site, which includes video segments showing how quickly a live tree can burn.

Revised May 8, 2013

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