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Be Safe with Holiday Decorations

December 14, 2005

Holiday decorations can make the season more festive, but they can also make it more dangerous if proper precautions are not taken, according to Westchester County’s Deputy Emergency Services Commissioner John Jackson.

“Decorating for the holidays can be a lot of fun, but people need to take safety seriously because this is the time of year when many fires start,’’ said Jackson. “Candles left unattended, trees that are improperly cared for or improper use of electrical lighting can all present a fire hazard.’’

Jackson advised people to follow these safety tips prepared by the U.S. Fire Administration:

Selecting and caring for live trees

  • 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. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.
  • Set your tree up in a safe area that is located away from all heat sources. Do not place the tree near a fireplace or heating vent because the heat will dry out the tree. If there are smokers in the house, do not allow them to smoke near the tree. 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.
  • As soon as the tree becomes dry, it needs to be disposed of promptly. If your community uses a recycling service, this is the best way to dispose of the tree. Otherwise, have the tree hauled away by your waste hauler. Never put the tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

Artificial Trees

  • If you opt for an artificial tree, make sure that the tree has a fire-retardant label. If the tree is metal or aluminum, do not use any lights or electrical product to decorate them. Metal is a good conductor of electricity.

Holiday Decorative Lighting

  • Indoor Lights - 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. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory. Unplug all decorative lighting before you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Outdoor Lights -Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory and marked for outdoor use. Turn off electricity to the supply outlet before working with outdoor wiring. Run all outdoor cords above ground, keeping them out of the puddles and snow. To prevent moisture from entering bulb sockets, turn the bulbs to face the ground.
  • Don’t Overload 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 to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.


  • Use non-flammable Decorations - All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents. Never put wrapping paper in a fireplace, as it can throw off dangerous sparks and produce a chemical buildup in the home that could cause an explosion.

Candle Care

  • Avoid using lit candles. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they can not easily be knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, the number of candle fires jumped from 8,240 to 15,040 between 1980 and 1999. In 2001, the latest year for which statistics are available, candles caused 18,000 home fires and 190 deaths.

Plan ahead

  • Know when and how to call for help. Keep fire department, police, ambulance, doctor, and other emergency service numbers posted on or near your telephone. Keep a UL listed multi-purpose fire extinguisher in your kitchen when preparing holiday meals – and know how to use it. Remember to practice your home escape plan so that all are familiar with it in the event of an emergency.

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