The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Maryland's Office of the State Fire Marshal are teaming up in hopes of helping consumers give the gift of a safe holiday home.
Each November and December, thousands of consumers are injured and millions of dollars in property losses are reported as a result of falls, fires, and other incidents associated with holiday decorations.
Injuries on the rise
Since 2009, the estimated number of holiday decoration-related injuries has increased at a rate of 1,000 per year -- from 12,000 in 2009, to 13,000 in 2010, to 14,000 in 2011. Between 2008 and 2010, property losses from Christmas tree fires have increased from an estimated $18 million -- to $19 million. Candle-related fires during this same period resulted in reports of 74 deaths and $347 million in property losses.
"Make sure you water your Christmas tree frequently, use holiday lights that are tested and certified and safe and not damaged, use candles carefully, and do not put a frozen turkey into a deep fryer," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "We want consumers to avoid fires and injuries by adding "safety" to their holiday checklist."
Common incident scenarios involve fires from dried-out evergreen trees and clippings, burns from open-flame candles and falls while attempting to hang holiday decorations. CPSC has several safety tips to help prevent these and other incidents this season.
"Christmas and the days around it are typically some of the top days for home fires," said Greg Cade, division director of Government Affairs for NFPA. "With an increased fire risk around winter holidays, following safety tips at this time of year is especially important to prevent fires."
"Holidays are a time of celebration with family and friends," stated Maryland State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard. "However, fire and life safety is everyone's responsibility; by testing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, keeping exits clear of obstructions, monitoring water levels for live trees, staying with food while it is cooking, and following basic safety guidelines involving open flame devices such as candles and fireplaces, we can all avoid injury or death from fire."
Trees and Decorations
Buying live trees? Check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and its needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
Setting up a tree at home? Place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms dry out live trees rapidly, be sure to monitor water levels daily, and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of foot traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
Buying an artificial tree? Look for the label: "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
Decorating a tree in homes with small children? Take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children, who could swallow or inhale small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
Keep burning candles within sight. Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be placed away from items that can catch fire, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture.
Use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Lights for both indoor and outdoor usage must meet strict requirements that testing laboratories are able to verify. On decorative lights available in stores, UL's red holographic label signifies that the product meets safety requirements for indoor and outdoor usage. UL's green holographic label signifies that the product meets requirements for only indoor usage.
Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets and do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.
Check each extension cord to make sure it is rated for the intended use and is in good condition. Do not use cords with cuts or signs of fraying.
Check outdoor lights for labels showing that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.
Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown onto wood fires. Fire salts contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting, if swallowed. Keep them away from children.
Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result because wrappings can ignite suddenly and burn intensely.