Holiday decorating is a long-standing tradition, but unfortunately, some decorations may increase your chances of fire. Nationwide, an estimated 250 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 170 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). In 2010, these fires resulted in 21 deaths and 43 injuries.
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) encourages everyone to follow the guidelines below to ensure a merry, bright and safe holiday season.
Take proper precautions when selecting a tree
Be sure that it is safe to decorate your Christmas tree with lights before you do so. Christmas trees, even artificial ones, can be a source of fires in the home, but with the proper safety precautions your risk can be minimized.
- If you prefer a live tree, make sure you pick one that is fresh. The individual needles should not bend or break between the fingers if pulled from the branch. The branches should not lose many needles if you pick up and shake the tree. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard. The stump of the tree should be sticky to the touch. Keep your tree supplied with plenty of water while it is displayed.
- If you are buying an artificial tree, be sure that it is marked "fire resistant" before you bring it home for decoration. Under no circumstances should a metallic tree be strung with lights due to potential electrocution hazards.
- Before you begin decorating, place your tree in an area away from fireplaces, furnaces, or open flames. A tree can heat up quickly and catch fire in such locations. Always use artificial lights, never real candles, to decorate your tree.
Lights, ornaments and candles can be hazardous
- If you are going to use holiday lights this Christmas, be sure to check first whether they're made for inside or outside use, and look on the package to make sure that they've been tested for safety by an independent laboratory.
- Check every set of lights for frayed wires, cracked or loose bulbs and other potential defects. Do not attempt to repair these lights. Instead throw them out and replace them with a new set. Extension cords, if you use them, should only be used with a maximum of three standard sets of lights.
- Don't overload electrical outlets or run extension cords under carpets, across doorways, or near heaters. Be sure extension cords are not pinched behind or under furniture.
- If you plan to hang your lights outside, make sure that the area in which you intend to use them is both safe and secure. Hang the lights on trees, house supports or other firm surfaces, and make sure that they won't be in contact with dry, flammable material like paper once they are lit. Use insulated staples or hooks to hold the lights in place.
- No matter how safe your lights may seem, never leave them lit without supervision and always extinguish them before bedtime.
- Avoid glass and other fragile ornaments if you have small children or pets. These can fall and shatter, creating a danger if they are stepped on or swallowed.
- Candles of any sort should be carefully placed away from flammable materials like paper, clothes, or combustible liquids before lighting. Always use stable nonflammable holders and put them out of reach of children or pets so they won't be toppled over easily.
- Always extinguish candles or other flames when you are away or before you go to sleep.
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