Candles and twinkling lights are beautiful at Christmas, but they have the potential to ruin holiday celebrations. Christmas trees and a heat source too close to the tree are blamed for one in every five of roughly 260 structure fires each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Most fire departments have already set out their large green wreath that are decked with red bulbs and a red bow. The decorations are pretty, but they're poignant too.
The red wreaths are a reminder to be safe when decorating this holiday season. The wreaths are part of the” Keep the Wreath Red” fire safety campaign, a statewide program that reminds you to practice fire safety during the holiday season. The wreaths feature decorative red lights, and for each fire caused by holiday decorations, the fire department will replace one red bulb with a white bulb.
New Lenox Fire Protection Public Education Officer Erika Leader said both real and fake trees can catch on fire when the twinkling lights get too hot. Referencing the statewide "Keep the Wreath Red" fire safety campaign, he offered a few suggestions about Christmas trees, holiday decorations and candles.
- Unplug holiday lights before leaving home or going to sleep
- Don't overload extension cords
- Make sure the lights are in good working condition
- Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections
- Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant
- Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords don't get damaged
- Keep in mind that some lights are indoor-only and others for outdoor use, but never both.
The white UL tags that cling to the cords are not meant as annoying stickers to clip off before stringing the lights or setting up decorations. They're in place to let consumers know they've been safety tested. The UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, which sets the standard for this kind of lighting. The insignia is evidence that the decorations have passed inspection and meet non-combustible standards as long as they're used correctly and under the right conditions.
Leader added the rule of thumb is to "connect no more than three strands of mini-light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs."
Too many light strands strung together can cause the wiring to overheat. Mokena Fire Protection District Lt. Mark Sickles recommends plugging lights into a surge protector that will automatically trip if there is danger of an overload.
For families that traditionally set up real trees, Leader offers a few additional suggestions:
- Select a tree that's fresh; give it a few good shakes. If the needles are falling off before you leave the lot, look for another tree.
- Don't rely on chemical sprays to make the tree flame resistant
- Keep trees in a holding stand and keep it full of water
- Keep trees away from heat sources and away from exit ways
- Never use candles on or near a tree
- After the holidays discard the tree when it begins to drop needles
Sickles recommends before setting up a real tree, make sure to slice at least a half-inch off the bottom to expose a fresh portion that can absorb water.
Candles smell wonderful, but use them cautiously.
Sickle said candles help set the cozy mood that coincides with the holiday season, but don't leave hem unattended. The open flame can easily ignite anything that can burn. "Don't leave them unattended for long. If you're going to be in another room for awhile, blow them out." Those candle holders are not meant for intense heat, and some candles burn hotter than others, he added.
Kids are "fascinated by fire; you have to watch them around a candle," he added.
Leader offered some simple tips when using candles:
- Use candle holders that are sturdy and won't tip over easily.
- Put candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface.
- Light candles carefully. Keep your air and any loose clothing away from the flame.
- Don't burn a candle all the way down; put out before it gets too close to the holder or container.
- Never use a candle if oxygen is used in the home.
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