Make your holiday fire-safe!

  • Published
  • By Deputy Chief Thomas R. Woods
  • Base Fire Prevention Office
Decorating homes and businesses is a long-standing tradition around the holiday season. Unfortunately, these same decorations may increase the chance of fire.
Based on data from the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration, each year an estimated 250 home fires occur involving Christmas trees and another 170 home fires involve holiday lights and other decorative lighting. Together, these fires result in 21 deaths and 43 injuries annually.

Following a few simple fire-safety tips can keep electric lights, candles and the ever popular Christmas tree from creating a tragedy. Learn how to prevent a fire and what to do in case a fire starts in your home. Make sure all exits are accessible and not blocked by trees or other decorations.

Live Christmas Trees:

- If you buy a real tree, try to get the freshest one possible. Christmas trees are frequently cut as early as October and placed in cold storage until the tree lots begin sales. Remember, a dry tree will ignite explosively and burn.

- A fresh tree will have a strong pine or spruce scent and a deep-green color. Needles will not fall off the tree at a touch. To test freshness, grasp a branch near the trunk and gently pull the branch through your fingers. If needles feel brittle, stiff or come off easily, choose another tree. A truly fresh tree will have sticky sap at the base.

- Prior to placing the tree in a tree stand cut off about two inches of the trunk, preferably at a slight angle if your stand will permit this. An angle cut permits maximum water absorption. Water the tree daily. The average tree will consume between a quart and a gallon of water per day. Recent tests prove that commercial additives are of little value. They also indicate that tap water is best for keeping the tree hydrated.

- Fireplaces and other heat sources, such as space heaters, will dry the tree out quickly. So, avoid placing the tree to close to them. Be careful not to block access to doors and exits with the tree or with furniture that has been rearranged to allow space for a tree to be set up.

- Never use candles or other open flame decorations on or near the tree.

Artificial Trees:

- If purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label stating it meets flammability standards. Many of these trees have a spray coating applied that may wear off over the years. You can test this by removing a small piece of the tree, taking it to a safe area outside, and applying a flame. If it readily burns, it is time to replace or re-treat the tree.

- Do not string electric lights or other wiring on the tree as this creates a possible electrical shock hazard. Illuminate metal trees with multicolor flood lamps designed for this purpose. Artificial trees come with safety instructions that should be read carefully and followed closely.

Holiday Lights:

- Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking.

- Use lighting only listed by an approved testing laboratory.

- DO NOT overload electrical outlets.

- Unless directions allow, DO NOT link together more than THREE light strands.

- Make periodic checks to wires - they should not be warm to the touch.

- DO NOT leave holiday lights unattended.

- Presents under the tree are very pretty, but keep tissue paper wrappings away from tree lights.

- Do not run lights or extension cords under carpets or rugs, through door jambs or across walkways.

Holiday Decorations:

- Use only nonflammable decorations of flame resistant decorations and ensure they are not located near any heat vents.

- DO NOT block exits. Trees and decorations should not block any exits within your home or work facility.

Candle use in Air Force facilities is prohibited. If the use of a candle is necessary, and strictly involves a holiday function, it has to be cleared through the Edwards Fire Department Fire Prevention section for approval. A formal request will be required by the building's facility manager outlining information pertinent to the holiday function that needs approval for candle use.

Remember, check your live tree daily throughout the holiday season. If it becomes dry, brittle or the needles turn brown and fall off, it needs to be removed from the home or office as the risk of fire becomes too great.

When disposing of your Christmas tree, never burn it in the fireplace. Most communities establish plans for either the recycling or disposal of Christmas trees, so watch your local papers.

In case of an emergency on base, dial 911 from a duty or housing phone, and dial 661-277-4540 from a cell phone.

For any additional information, call the Fire Prevention office at 661-277-3643.

Help ensure that you have a fire-safe holiday season.

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