Though a time for celebration and reflection, the bright and joyous holiday season is too often tarnished with tragedy. Each year across America 10,000 accidental deaths directly related to holiday decorations occur in December alone. Most of these deaths and injuries are the result of fire – and most could have been avoided.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Northeast COMBAT want your family to be safe during the holidays. Following simple fire prevention measures could save your life.
A live decorated tree poses many fire hazards. An 8-foot pine can burn completely in 27 seconds. A burning tree accelerates the fire, becoming an inferno that starts an out-of-control house fire within minutes.
If possible, buy or cut your living tree just days before Christmas. Trees bought several weeks before Christmas should be kept cool in a garage or outside for as long as possible.
When preparing the tree, cut the trunk diagonally before putting it into the stand. This helps the tree to take up water more efficiently. Water the tree well and frequently. Check the water level every night. A dried-out tree causes risk of fire.
Be very careful what goes on the tree, especially electrical lighting. Be sure to carefully handle tree lights while unpacking, decorating and repacking them for storage after the holidays. Wires can be broken and exposed if handled improperly, causing fire risk. Never overload extension cords or light strings. Don’t connect more than 200 midget lights together unless the manufacturer rates the product differently. Read the instructions. Manufacturers must list how many light strings can be safely connected together.
Outdoor light sets are labeled specifically for outside purposes. They may become too hot for an inside tree. Always unplug all lights when you sleep or leave the house.
Check all light strings in the box or on the floor before putting them on the tree. Look for cracks in the wire covering. An exposed wire is a potential killer. Cracked and broken bulbs also could cause an electrical fire or shock. Be careful of any splits that might develop in the light sockets. Cracked sockets can cause a bad burn on your hands and fingers.
Loose add-on connectors used for additional lights are a real threat. Bare or exposed wires may cause electrical shocks. A safety check for loose add-ons can be done by giving the prongs or blades on the connector a substantial push against a hard surface. This simulates the effort of plugging the set in.
Cautiously plug the set into an unplugged extension cord five times. If the blade doesn’t cause the insert to push out the opposite end or become loose, go ahead and use the lights on the tree.
If midget lights are used, check for exposed bulb contact wires. If the wires are exposed, discard them and replace the bulbs with new ones. If you plan to have an artificial tree this year, be aware that lights should never be used on metal trees. The metal tree edges may cut insulation or touch an electrically charged component. Colored spotlights should be used to illuminate a metal tree. Place the spotlight a safe distance from the tree and out of reach of small children.
Like Grammie and Grampy said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Best wishes for a happy and safe holiday season from all of us at COMBAT and Consumer Forum.
Consumer Forum is a collaborative effort of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast COMBAT. Send questions to Consumer Forum, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. COMBAT is a nonprofit organization with annual dues of $10. For membership information, write to the above address.