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Use candles, Christmas trees and decorations safely

Staff • Dec 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee Fire Marshal Leslie A. Newman wants to remind Tennesseans to keep fire safety on their minds as they celebrate the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“Home decorations make a home cheerful and festive, but items such as string lights and Christmas trees introduce fire risks,” said Newman. “Every year we hear of families that have lost their homes, or worse, suffered an injury or death due to a fire caused by decorations.”

These risks can be minimized by following a few fire safety tips:

•Keep live trees as moist as possible throughout the season by giving them plenty of water daily.

•Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from heat sources such as fireplaces and radiators.

•Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials. Never use candles to decorate a Christmas tree.

•Do not overload extension cords.

•Do not mount lights in any way that can damage the cord’s wire insulation (i.e., use clips, not nails).

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

The activities and excitement surrounding the holidays can make people less careful at a time when they should be more cautious, said Newman.

“Keeping fire safety in mind and following a few fire safety guidelines will ensure that Tennesseans have a safe and happy holiday season,” said Newman.

And as the holidays wind down, the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories are urging consumers to practice safety when putting away holiday decorations.

According to the NFPA, 13 percent of the home fires attributed to Christmas trees have occurred in January. The NFPA recommends consumers remove real trees from their home and properly dispose of them once their holiday celebration ends.

“Christmas trees — real or artificial — can be a significant fuel source if a fire occurs in your home,” Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications at the NFPA, said in a news release. “Even a well-watered tree should be taken down after four weeks. If you decorated your real tree right after Thanksgiving, it should be discarded the week after Christmas.”

Christmas trees are not the only holiday decorations that need prompt attention after the holidays. All electric decorations should also be taken down and put away.

“Holiday lights are considered seasonal and should not be up longer than 90 days,” said John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager for UL. “If you leave decorations out any longer, they will be more prone to damage, which could cause an electrical shock or fire hazard.”

As you unplug and store holiday decorations, the NFPA and UL would like to remind you that practicing safety now can keep decorations in working condition and prevent potential hazards from occurring next year. Following are safety tips consumers can use any time when putting away seasonal decorations:

•To unplug electric decorations, use the gripping area provided on the plugs. Never pull the cord to unplug a device from electrical outlets. Doing so can damage the cord’s wire and insulation and even lead to an electrical shock or fire.

•As you’re putting away electrical light strings, take time to inspect each for flaws. Throw out light sets if they have loose connections, broken or cracked sockets, or frayed or bare wires.

•Do not place a faulty set of lights back into the storage box for next year’s use.

•Take the initiative now and throw out worn light strings. Shop for replacements during after-Christmas sales or add lights to your Christmas decoration list for next year.

•Be sure to pack lights appropriately. No one likes to untangle a web of lights. When preparing your holiday lights for storage, consider purchasing a holiday light storage reel, or create your own system.

•Store electrical decorations in a dry place, such as a suitcase, where they cannot be damaged by water or dampness. Also, keep them away from children and pets to ensure that cords and wires are not damaged in storage.

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