SPRINGFIELD – As we enter the holiday season, the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal urges residents to pay special attention to Christmas decorations to avoid any potential dangers. Christmas tree lights, old extension cords, and fresh cut trees without proper care could lead to fires and serious injuries.
“This is a joyful time of the year where many families gather to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of the traditional Christmas tree or other decorations, but we remind people that those days are also a high season for house fires,” said State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis. “It’s imperative that our families maintain a safe setting and be well informed about fire safety during the holidays.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 240 home fires caused by Christmas trees between 2005 and 2009. Those fires resulted in an average of approximately 13 civilian deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in direct property damage nationwide each year. Some causing factors involved electrical problems (33%), heat source too close to Christmas trees (20%), and candles near Christmas trees (11%).
OSFM offers the following tips to consumers:
• If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
• If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 1-2” from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.
• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, space heaters or lights.
• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the room or going to bed.
• After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections.
• Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of LED strands safe to connect.
• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
December is the peak month for home candle fires, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day representing two of the top five days for associated fires. More than half of all candle fires start when they are placed too close to combustible household items (i.e. curtains, lamp shades, other fabrics, and plastic) and holiday decorations (i.e., trees, garland, stockings, wrapping paper, and wrapped/boxed gifts).
• Consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.
• Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces.
• Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where two of five U.S. candle fires begin, or other areas where people may fall asleep.
• Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
• Always put candles out before leaving the room.
For more information about fire safety and prevention, please visit http://www.sfm.illinois.gov or www.nfpa.org.