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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 the following 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. 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

Follow these guidelines for using 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 in front of 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

Follow these guidelines for using 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

Follow these guidelines for 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.

Additional Information

Find more information on holiday fire safety from the U.S. Fire Administration, which offers video segments showing how quickly a live tree can burn.

Revised May 28, 2015

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