'Tis the season for holiday decorating - and decorating-related injuries and increased risk of fire from those decorations. It may sound like something out of a sitcom, but 12,500 people are treated in emergency rooms each year after decorating-related mishaps - nearly half of those from falls, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. U.S. fire departments respond to an average 230 home fires which begin with the home's Christmas tree each year, with an average of four deaths, 21 injuries and $17.3 million in property damage annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
There are an average of 160 home fires per year involving decorative holiday lighting, resulting in nine deaths, 13 injuries and milions in property damage. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in nearly 70 percent of those fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "fire resistant." The trees will catch fire, but will burn slowly and extinguish quickly, according to the CPSC.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Do not place a tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited. Nearly one in five fires involving a Christmas tree occurred because the tree was placed too close to a heat source, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times. Be sure to place your tree, whether artificial or fresh, out of high-traffic areas and don't block doorways.
When decorating your tree, use only noncombustible or flame-resistant decorations. Tinsel and other decorations should be made of plastic, not leaded materials, which are hazardous if ingested by children or pets. If yours is a household with small children and pets, avoid ornaments that are sharp, breakable, have small pieces or resemble candy or food, according to the CPSC.
The U.S. Fire Administration recommends inspecting holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before hanging. Only use lights that have fused plugs and replace burned-out bulbs promptly with same-wattage bulbs.
Only use lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory and don't overload electrical outlets. Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure the extension cord is rated for the intended use, according to the CPSC.
Make sure to periodically check the wires. The wires should not be warm to the touch, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree, because the tree may become charged with electricity from faulty lights and a person touching it could be electrocuted.
Before hanging lights outdoors, check that they are certified for outdoor use and fasten them securely to prevent wind damage. Use insulated staples or hooks to hang lights, not nails or tacks. Stay away from power and feeder lines when hanging lights. Outdoor lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters, and portable ones are available where electric supplies are sold, according to the CPSC. Whenever you go to bed or leave the house, turn off all decorative lights, inside and out.
If you enjoy your fireplace this holiday, keep evergreens far from it and don't burn wrapping paper, which can cause a flash-fire. Also keep fire salts away from children and pets, as they can cause gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten, according to the CPSC. While holiday decorations can add to the festivities, keep safety in mind to make the Christmas season a joyous - and safe - one.