Safety first to avoid holiday hazards

25 Nov 2005 | Lance Cpl. Drew W. Barker

Thanksgiving has come and gone and fall has begun its transition into winter as we approach Christmas and the close of 2005. It’s a time of year when most of us pull out our boxes of tangled lights and broken ornaments to decorate for the festive season.

Unfortunately, there are a number of inherent risks and potential hazards that are associated with this time of year and many of the traditions that accompany it, including the beloved Christmas tree and decorative light displays.

The use of decorations, candles and Christmas trees in homes contributes to an increase in residential fires during the months of December and January, when more than 40% of the nation’s annual fires are reported, a number of which tragically result in death or serious injury, according to the United States Fire Administrations Website,

In 2002, there were 240 Christmas tree fires in U.S. homes, resulting in 23 deaths, 12 injuries and $11.4 million in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s Website,

The most common causes for these types of fires include electrical malfunctions, improperly maintained trees and candles left unattended.

“More than four of every 10 home Christmas tree fires are caused by an electrical problem or malfunction," said Judy Comoletti, assistant vice president for public education at the NFPA. "One in four Christmas tree fires resulted from a heat source placed too close to the tree. Candles were the heat source in 8 percent of these incidents. Seven percent were started by children playing with fire."

Luckily many of these accidental fires are easily avoidable; here are some tips from the NFPA to help ensure safety this holiday season:

-Use caution with holiday decorations and whenever possible, choose those made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials.

-Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials, and do not use candles to decorate Christmas trees. 

-Purchase only lights and electrical decorations bearing the name of an independent testing lab, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance.

-When decorating Christmas trees, always use safe tree lights. (Some lights are designed only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.) Larger tree lights should also have some type of reflector rather than a bare bulb and all lights should be listed by a testing laboratory.

-Try to keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water daily. Do not purchase a tree that is dry or dropping needles.

-When purchasing a live or cut tree, check for fresh, green needles.

-Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.

-When purchasing an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire-retardant.

-Store matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.

-Make sure the tree is at least three feet (one meter) away from any heat source, such as fireplaces and radiators. Try to position the tree near an outlet so that cords are not running long distances. Do not place the tree where it may block exits.

-Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are highly flammable and should not be left in a house or garage, or placed against the house.

-Carefully inspect new and previously used light strings and replace damaged items before plugging lights in. Do not overload extension cords. .

-Turn off all light strings and decorations before leaving the house or going to bed.

By taking proper safety precautions, families can remove potential dangers and protect themselves and their homes and ensure a safe and happy holiday.