12/18/11 — Officials caution: Use care with lights and trees

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Officials caution: Use care with lights and trees

By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 18, 2011 1:50 AM

As the holiday season kicks into full swing, fire officials are hoping residents will take fire-safety precautions during their yuletide celebrations.

The U.S. Fire Association says nearly 250 home fires involving Christmas trees occur each year and holiday lights cause another 170 fires annually.

Goldsboro Fire Department Chief Gary Whaley said there are preventative measures to take whether your Christmas tree is live or artificial.

Whaley said a working fire extinguisher should be near your tree from the moment you put it up.

For those who put a real tree in their home, the first step to fire prevention is keeping the tree properly watered.

"It is very important to water your tree once or twice every day to keep it green and prevent it from drying out," Whaley said.

He said when trees become dry they are more susceptible to catching fire when overheated.

In homes with an artificial Christmas tree, Whaley said residents should inspect the tree to make sure it has not become brittle due to old age.

He said the material artificial trees are made out of can also dry out, and the flame retardant properties can also deteriorate as the tree ages.

Whether your Christmas tree is adorned with prelighted strands or you hang the light strands yourself, Whaley said the first line of defense is visually checking the strands before you plug them into an outlet.

"You want to closely look over the lights and any extension cords you may use for cracks or where the cord may have become frayed," Whaley said.

Tree fires can ignite after an electrical short caused by a frayed wire creates a spark, he said.

After your tree is set up, decorated and filling the room with Christmas cheer, Whaley said it is important to continue to monitor the light strands.

"You should periodically check the light strands and cords with your hands for excess heat," Whaley said.

If cords or light strands are overheating, they are likely malfunctioning and could be putting your home at risk.

It is also important, Whaley said, to not overload electrical circuits of wall outlets or power strip with light strands.

"Never use more than three strands into one circuit," Whaley warned.

Whaley recommends the extra precaution of hanging flame-resistant Christmas ornaments on the tree.

He also stressed the importance of not leaving your home with your Christmas tree lit, no matter how proud you are of your completed work.

Whaley said people need to continue thinking fire prevention even on Christmas morning during the excitement of unwrapping gifts.

"It can be dangerous to throw a large amount of wrapping paper in a fire at one time," Whaley said. "The drastic increase in heat can and ignite the buildup on the inside of a chimney."

He also said wrapping paper put into a fireplace can give off heat waves and push the paper embers out into the room.

Whaley's final warning to keep your family safe during the holiday season is to make sure all exits in the home are kept clear of decorations and gift boxes in case of an emergency evacuation.