State fire marshal: Use caution with holiday decor to prevent risk of fires

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Festive lighting, windowsill candles and ornamented Christmas trees are staples of the holidays, but these decorative items also pose a fire risk if handled improperly.

“December is an exciting time where just about every home in the neighborhood is accented with decorations and seasonal lighting,” said Ed Paulk, state fire marshal. “Although decorations and Christmas trees certainly spread holiday cheer, it is important to follow basic safety steps so celebrations go off without a hitch.”

On average, one of every 18 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death during 2005-2009, compared to an average of one death per 141 total home fires, according to National Fire Prevention Association statistics.

Paulk said holiday lights and other decorative lighting were involved in an estimated average of 150 home fires per year during the same time period, causing an average of eight civilian deaths, 14 injuries and $8.5 million in direct property damage per year.

Here are a few Christmastime safety tips to help protect your home against fires this holiday season:

• Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.

• Keep lit candles away from decorations or anything that can burn. Paulk advises against the use of candles altogether.

“Remember, a candle represents an open flame which can easily ignite anything that can burn,” he said. “Certainly, never use lit candles to decorate your tree.”

• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory and check the packaging. Some lights are only for indoor use.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more strands than instructions recommend.

• Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.

• Keep decorations away from windows and doors.

Paulk also recommended use these tips of Christmas tree safety:

• Keep your tree well watered. The drier your tree, the more dangerous it becomes.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken bulbs or loose bulb connections. Connect no more strands than instructions recommend.

• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree!

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

• Get rid of the tree when it is dry. Check for recycling opportunities in your area.

• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent deterioration and hazards and to make them last longer.