Decoration Dangers

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The Dangers of Decorations

(Reprint of article by
Pam Miller, Snohomish County Fire Marshal)


 
‘Tis the season! Christmas. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. Festival of Lights. Yes, this holiday period is a time of great celebration, tradition, beauty and…danger.

All those Yule logs, menorahs, votive candles, luminaries, tree ornaments and holiday greens may be time-honored decorative touches. But they also can be accidents waiting to happen. And happen they do, every holiday season. Asphyxiations. Chokings. Poisonings. And house fires.

"Major factors that increase the risk of fire in the home during the holidays are defective decorative lights and careless use of candles and fireplaces," says Snohomish County Fire Marshal Pam Miller.

Candles are of particular concern this year because of their growing popularity, not only for decorative uses but also for aromatherapy and spiritual practices. The National Candle Association reports candles sales have grown by 10-15 percent yearly during the past decade. Candles are used in seven out of every 10 U.S. households.

That increased use has resulted in increased misuse. In the 1980s, candles were responsible for 1.1 percent of home structure fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 1997, that figure had jumped to 2.9 percent, causing 11,600 fires, 156 deaths and more than $171-million in property damage.

Historically, there are twice as many home candle fires in December as there are in an average month. Candles cause 43 percent of all home decoration fires.

A graphic case in point occurred the evening of December 2, when an unattended candle ignited a Bremerton home and took the lives of two teenaged girls.

"This is a big potential problem this year," says Miller. "The sad thing is all these fires are preventable. Three-quarters of candle fires occur because candles are left unattended and 40 percent are caused by combustibles too close to the candle."

 

 


Here are some tips for safe enjoyment of candles this holiday season:


 

 

 

 

 

Unlit candles are much safer than lit candles. But if you do light your candles, make sure they are placed in stable holders or on a trivet. Always put candles on a level surface where they cannot be easily knocked over.

  • Never leave the house or go to sleep with candles burning.

  • Never put lit candles on a tree.

  • Glass containers can break. If you find a chip or crack, discard it. Do not allow a glass container to burn dry.

  • Allow ample overhead clearance and make sure candles are not too close to a wall, near combustible materials, near dry greenery, draperies, sheers, lampshades, garments, or in an enclosed area.

  • Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.

  • Keep burning candles out of direct drafts. This includes air and heat vents, open doors and windows, and people traffic. A draft may cause the wick or flame to draw too near to the sides and may fracture the glass.

  • Never drop burned matches or other objects into candles.

  • When the candle is cool, trim the wick with scissors to no more than ¼-inch. A longer wick is prone to dark smoking, especially with more fragrant candles. Also, a longer wick is more apt to burn off-center creating a hot spot on the side of the container that could cause it to fracture.

  • Choose high-quality candles. Inferior wax emits more smoke. Beeswax burns cleanest.

Unfortunately, candles aren’t the only cause of seasonal house fires. Here are some safety tips for other types of holiday decorations:
 

 



      Outdoor Lights

 

 

  • Be sure to purchase only lights that bear the mark of an approved testing laboratory.

  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Wires should not be warm to the touch. Replace any frayed or damaged cords.

  • For outside decorations, use only those lights labeled for outdoor use.
  • Use only insulated staples, not nails or tacks. Make sure lights are securely fastened to prevent wind damage.

  • If your outdoor outlets don’t have ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), have an electrician replace them before you use them. Test all GFCIs once a month (by pressing the test button), then make sure they are reset.

  • Bring outdoor lights inside following the holidays so they are not damaged by extended exposure to harsh weather conditions.

  • Always unplug all lights before leaving home or going to sleep and don't overload electrical outlets.

     

 

      Indoor Lights

             

  • Be sure to purchase only lights that bear the mark of an approved testing laboratory.

  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.

  • Wires should not be warm to the touch. Replace any frayed or damaged cords.

  • Always unplug all lights before leaving home or going to sleep 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.

  • Use only battery-operated lights if you have a metal Christmas tree, or decorate without lighting.

  • Do not overload electrical outlets.

  • Do not leave holiday lights on unattended. Be sure to unplug all lights before going to sleep or leaving the house.


 

          Tree Ornaments

  • All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents and other heat sources.

  • Put decorations high enough on the tree so you child or pet can’t reach them. Children can choke or cut their mouths on ornaments, ornament hangers or tinsel. They also can be poisoned by older painted ornaments that contain lead.

  • Hang one of the new fire alarm tree ornaments.


          Wreaths and Greens

  • Do not place greens near a fireplace, candles or any other open flame or heat source.

  • Do not go near a holiday tree or greens with an open flame such as candles, cigarettes, lighters or matches. Do not flick cigarette ashes near greens.

  • Holly and mistletoe are poisonous. Keep them away from children!

  • Poinsettias can cause severe stomachaches if swallowed.


 

 

             Other Decorations

  • Keep wrapping paper away from candles and electric lights.

  • Promptly remove all discarded packages and wrappings from the house.

  • Never burn wrapping paper in a fireplace. It can throw off dangerous sparks and produce a chemical buildup in the home that could cause an explosion.

  • Wear gloves to avoid eye or skin irritation while working with spun glass ("angel hair").

     
  • Follow container directions when using artificial snow sprays.

  • If you burn luminaries (votive candles in paper bags), be sure they are placed well away from any wood or other flammable materials. Use flame-resistant bags. Don’t use in strong wind.

 

Finally, make sure—as you should every season—that you have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home. Test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And remember to practice your home escape plan.

 

 

If you have to report a fire, medical emergency, or have any questions about fire prevention, please DO NOT hesitate to contact the: 

 

 

 


LYNN FIRE DEPARTMENT 

Emergency Number: 9-1-1

Business/Questions: 781-592-1000

 

or


your areas local Fire Department.


 

 

 

Credit for article: 
Pam Miller, Snohomish County Fire Marshal, (425) 388-3557, ext. 2780; Wayne Lee, Public Involvement, (425) 388-3789

 



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