Colorful lights twinkling in the night. Shimmering angels adorning treetops. Candy canes illuminating walkways. It’s time to dress your house in holiday style. Unfortunately, decorations meant to create seasonal cheer can cause disaster. Fire departments across the nation responded to about 230 homes fires that began with Christmas trees between 2006 and 2010, according to a report released in 2012 from the U.S. Fire Administration and National Fire Prevention Association Fire Analysis and Research Division. Those fires, on average, caused four deaths, 21 injuries and $17.3 million in property damage.
To keep your holiday from going up in smoke, follow these tips to stay safe:
• Inspect lights each year. Discard lights with frayed wires, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear. Use only lights approved by an independent testing laboratory.
• Use lights designated specifically for indoor or outdoor use in the appropriate areas. Electricians recommend GFCI outlets to connect outdoor lights.
• Connect no more than three light strands together. Plug light strands into an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Periodically check the wires, which shouldn’t be warm to the touch.
• Avoid electric lights on a metallic tree as electricity from faulty lights can charge the tree and create an electrocution hazard. Instead, use colored spotlights above or beside a metallic tree.
• Keep bubble lights away from children, who may be attracted to the candle-shaped bulbs. They pose a danger if broken or swallowed.
• If you use a ladder to hang lights, ensure it’s secured on the ground. A ladder should reach at least three feet above a roof’s edge. Don’t stand on the top three rungs. Use a wood or fiberglass ladder if hanging lights near power lines or wiring.
• When placing lights outdoors, securely fasten to trees, house or walls to protect from wind damage.
• Turn off all lights when going to bed or leaving the house.
• Outdoor lights are for temporary, seasonal use of up to 90 days, so remove lights after the holidays.
Lights aren’t the only thing that can cause holiday hazards. Keep candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over, and never use them near a tree, evergreens, wrapping paper or other decorations. Look for artificial trees that are fire resistant. If you display a real tree, keep it as moist as possible by cutting off two inches off the bottom to expose fresh wood and place it in a water-holding stand. Add water to the stand daily, and don’t leave your tree up longer than two weeks.
If you'd rather avoid handling holiday decorations yourself, consider hiring a professional.
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