SPRINGFIELD — As the holidays fast approach, the Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshal reminds the public about the dangers of home fire incidents involving Christmas trees and decorations during December and January.
Christmas trees, holiday decorations, overloaded extension cords and the use of candles are linked to seasonal homes fires during the holiday season.
“As people engage in a variety of tasks and activities, often times basic fire safety takes a second place in the list of priorities,” State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis said. “Residents should be proactive in discarding old decorations, extension cords, and remember to water natural Christmas trees frequently.”
Last year in Illinois 91 home fires reported were caused by Christmas trees and other decorations. Those fires resulted in more than $1.7 million in property losses.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2007 and 2011, U.S. fire departments estimated that two out of five fires were linked to Christmas trees, holiday lights and other decorations, between December and January. On average the origin of 230 home fires were Christmas trees. Those fires resulted in the death of nine civilians, 22 injuries, and close to $18.3 million in direct property damages.
The OSFM offers the following tips:
• When using an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as UL listed. Make sure artificial trees are tested and labeled as fire-resistant.
• When using a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched. This could mean that the tree is brittle and dry, therefore making it hazardous.
• Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1 to 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily. Put your tree in a sturdy water stand.
• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit and is at least 3 feet away from any heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or space heaters.
• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the room or going to bed.
• After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home.
• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use. Only use “indoor” lights indoors, and “outdoor” lights only outdoors.
• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections.
• Use no more than three light sets on any extension cord. Extension cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping hazards. Avoid running cords under rugs, around furniture legs or across doorways. Do not overload extension cords, outlets or power tips.
• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of LED strands that are safe to connect.
• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
• Keep a fire extinguisher close by.
December is the peak month for home candle fires, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day representing two of the top five days for associated fires. More than half of all candle fires start when they are placed too close to combustible household items (i.e. curtains, lamp shades, other fabrics, and plastic) and holiday decorations (i.e., trees, garland, stockings, wrapping paper, and wrapped/boxed gifts).
• Consider fusing flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.
• Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed in uncluttered surfaces.
• Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where two of five U.S. candle fires begin, or other areas where people may fall asleep.
• Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.
• Always put candles out before leaving the room.
• Never use lighted candles near trees, boughs, curtains or drapes, or with any potentially flammable item.
For more information about fire safety and prevention, visit http://www.sfm.illinois.gov or www.nfpa.org.