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The Twelve Days of Christmas Fire Hazards

Trees, candles, christmas lights all lead to fires each holiday season. A quick scan of these tips, starting with watering your tree to keep the needles from getting brittle, could make a difference.

Credit: Leslie Yager
Credit: Leslie Yager
By Leslie Yager

Christmas trees, candles and other holiday decorations help to make the season bright but they can also be fire hazards.

Fires involving trees or candles lead to more than 130 deaths per year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Those fires also result in more than $375 million in property damage annually.

Amica Insurance is sharing the following tips from the CPSC to help prevent fires during the holidays: 

  • When choosing a tree, find one that’s fresh. Fresh trees have needles that are hard to remove from branches and don’t break when bent between two fingers.
  • Position the tree away from heat sources like fireplaces and radiators. To keep the tree from drying out and becoming a fire risk, water it frequently.
  • Examine all lights for cracks, frayed wires or loose connections. Throw away any damaged lights, and never put electric lights on metallic trees.
  • Use candles sparingly, and never leave them unattended. When leaving the room or house, even for a short time, extinguish all candles.
  • Put candles on heat-resistant surfaces that can’t be reached by children or pets. Also, keep candles far away from trees, other decorations and curtains, which can all ignite and burn easily.
On the subject of Christmas safety, here's advice the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection sent out Friday in a news release:


Department of Consumer Protection Encourages Safety when Decorating for the Holidays

HARTFORD, December 6  – Hanging holiday lights, assembling lawn displays and decorating trees and shrubs can cause more than a few sore muscles, the Department of Consumer Protection warned today. Falling from a ladder, cutting oneself on a broken bulb, or wrenching a shoulder while unloading the attic are the cause of pain, missed workdays, and visits to the emergency room for thousands of consumers each year.

Last November and December, about 15,000 holiday decorating injuries were treated in hospital emergency departments nationwide, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) -- totaling about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season.

“A fun and festive time of year can be quickly ruined by an unnecessary injury,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said today.  “Make it a point to work safely when decorating in and around your home, in order to keep your holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy.”

In 2012, the most frequently reported holiday decorating incidents seen in emergency departments involved falls (34%), lacerations (11%) and back strains (10%). Although some adults may want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage while holiday decorating, the Department suggests that you first consider the tasks that need to be done before deciding to imbibe. For example, leave the drinks until after the roof lights have been installed and tested, and the ladder safely put away.

Fires are another holiday hazard. Each year from 2009 through 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to about 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item that caught fire, causing 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss. During the same time period, candle-related fires resulted in 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss.

“These hazards are all avoidable,” Rubenstein said. “Follow some basic safety guidelines and make sure that everyone in your home does the same.”

Consumers can use the following safety tips as a guide to help prevent decorating disasters this holiday season:

Trees and Decorations

1.      Buying a live tree? Check for freshness and keep it watered. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and the needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles. Have the seller of the tree cut about 1 inch off the bottom of the trunk before you take it home. Once home, put the tree trunk in a pail of lukewarm water and keep it there until you move it into its tree stand, which should also be full of water.

2.     Setting up a tree at home? Place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels daily, and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of foot traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.

3.     Buying an artificial tree? Look for the label: “Fire Resistant.” Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, the label does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.

4.     Decorating a tree in a home with small children? Take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children, who could swallow or inhale small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to reach for and swallow them.

Candles

1Keep burning candles within sight. Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.

2. Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface. Place candles where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be placed away from items that can catch fire, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture.  Keep them out of drafty areas.

Strings of Lights

1. Use light strings that have been tested. Select lights tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Lights for both indoor and outdoor use must meet strict requirements that testing laboratories are able to verify. On decorative lights available in stores, UL’s red holographic label signifies that the product meets safety requirements for indoor and outdoor use. UL’s green holographic label signifies that the product meets requirements for indoor use only.

2. Check each set of lights. Examine new and old lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed, chewed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw away damaged sets.  It is not worth the risk of fire to use a damaged set of lights. Do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.

3. Check each extension cord. Make sure each extension cord is rated for the intended use and is in good condition. Do not use cords with cuts or signs of pet chewing or fraying. 

4Check outdoor lights for labels. Look for labels indicating that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.

Fireplaces

1. Use care with “fire salts.” Fire salts produce colored flames when thrown onto wood fires. Fire salts contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed. Keep fire salts away from pets and children.

2. Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result from burning wrapping papers because ink coatings and paper contents can ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

The Department of Consumer Protection wishes everyone joyous and safe holidays and a prosperous New Year.

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