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State Fire Marshal Issues Safety Tips for Holiday Decorations

Contact: Lori Donlan (517) 373-9280
Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

November 22, 2006 - The Acting State Fire Marshal offers safety tips for holiday decorations. Candles and Christmas trees add a joyous and festive mood to the holiday season; but when decorations such as these are not used properly, they can cause fires, injuries and death.

"More and more holiday decorations feature candles and lights - lending a beautiful touch to ceremonies and events," said Andy Neumann, Acting State Fire Marshal. "However, consumers should remember that lighted candles that are left unattended could bring tragedy. These simple safety tips will help prevent many of the holiday decoration-related fires and tragedies, which occur each year."

The Fire Marshal asks consumers to follow these tips to make the holiday season a safe one:

Trees: 

  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break when bent between your fingers. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
  • Christmas trees should be checked daily and at the first sign of dryness be removed from the home. The drier the tree, the greater the fire hazard.
Lights:
  • Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or ETL which indicates conformance with safety standards. Use only lights that have plugs containing fuses.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
  • If using an extension cord, make sure the extension cord is rated for the intended use.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles into older homes.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Also, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
  • Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights - they could unravel and inadvertently wrap around power lines.
  • Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.
Decorations:
  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
  • Keep candles away from drafts and vents and do not place candles where they can be knocked down or blown over. Do not place candles on tablecloths when the edges of the tablecloths hang over the edge of the table and can be pulled by children.  
  • Trim wicks to ¼ inch prior to each use. Extinguish taper or pillar candles when they get within 2 inches of their holders.  Don't burn candles for more than 4 hours at a time.  Discontinue use of a container candle when ½ inch of the wax remains.  Always use containers that have been made for candle usage and keep matches, wick trimmings and foreign objects out of the candle wax.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
  • Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair."
  • Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays.
Fireplaces:
  • Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

"The holidays are a good time to make sure your family has a fire escape plan - and can safely execute it," added Neumann. "Map out escape routes for every member of your family, including alternate routes in case the others are blocked by a fire. Establish at least two exits from each part of the house. And finally, include a place safely away from the house for your family to meet to make sure everyone got out O.K. and practice your plan every couple of months - even in the winter months."

 

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