By Michael Campbell
Special to GUIDON
As our minds start to drift toward Christmas, we take decorations out of the attic and put them in their place around our homes. You may have put your Christmas tree up already.
This is a joyous time of year, and it’s fun to decorate for the holidays. Decorations are festive and beautiful. But remember, if they are not properly managed, they can also be very dangerous and increase the risk of fire in your home.
The National Fire Protection Association has found that between 2006 and 2010, fire departments in the United States responded to an average of 230 home fires that began with Christmas trees.
NFPA also found that these fires resulted in an average of four civilian deaths, 21 civilian injuries and more than $17 million in direct property damages per year.
Common causes of Christmas tree fires include: electrical failures or malfunctions, heat sources located too close to the tree, decorative lights and candles. NFPA warns that the fire risk associated with natural trees is higher than that of artificial trees. Dry, natural trees burn easily. But, if they are kept moist, they are less likely to catch fire.
NFPA also found that holiday lights and other decorative lighting were involved with an approximate average of 160 home fires per year, which resulted in nine civilian deaths, 13 civilian injuries and $9 million in property damage per year.
The most common cause of decorative lighting fires involved electrical failures or malfunctions.
Of course, the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department and Safety Office aren’t suggesting that you don’t decorate for the holidays. However, they do urge you to keep fire safety in mind. NFPA offers several fire safety tips to help keep you and yours safe that include:
— Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
— Connect no more than three strands of mini-light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
— Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Check the packaging; some lights are only for indoor use.
— Do not block exits with trees or decorations.
— Get rid of your tree right after Christmas — or when it’s dry — look for community recycling programs for disposal of your tree.
— Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections.
— Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
— Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
— Keep candles at least 12-inches from anything that burns.
— Make sure your tree is at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, candles, and heat vents.
— When choosing a real tree, make sure the needles are fresh and green and do not fall off when touched.
— Before placing it in the stand, cut two inches from the base of the tree.
— Water real trees daily.
— Make sure if you have an artificial tree that its labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
— Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
I hope that you will find these tips helpful while you are decorating for the holidays. And, from the entire Directorate of Emergency Services team, we wish you and yours a very safe and happy holiday season.
(Editor’s note: Campbell is a fire inspector with the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department.)