Busy shoppers, brightly decorated homes and family get-togethers are all signs that point to the fact the holiday season is upon us.
But it’s the other “signs” of the season that concern firefighters: homes burned and families devastated by fire caused by some of the very features that make this time of year so special.
"The sad thing is more often than not, these fires could have been prevented if citizens had just taken a little time to think about safety when decorating their homes," said Fullerton Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe.
Perhaps surprisingly, the chief noted, electrical cords often turn up as the prime villain in holiday fires.
“People place the electrical cords they use for their Christmas tree lights under tree skirts, rugs or furniture to hide them from view,” the chief said. “And when they get stepped on or a piece of furniture is placed on top of them, it can damage the cord, which can cause a fire.
”Electrical cords should never be covered.”
Knabe also urged residents not to overload extension cords for tree lights - no more than three light sets per cord – and keep the connection joint away from the tree's water supply. In addition, inspect the cords to make sure they are in safe operating condition.
Other tips offered by the fire chief for a safe and happy holiday include:
- If you plan on decorating a real tree, choose the freshest one possible. A good freshness test is to tap the tree lightly on the ground: if needles fall off, it's too dry. Fresh needles bend without breaking. And, don't count on a deep green color to mean freshness - the tree may have been sprayed to improve its appearance.
- Place the tree in a sturdy holder with a wide base, and keep the holder filled with water. For additional stability, fasten the tree to the wall or ceiling with thin, strong wire from at least two points.
- Keep the tree away from all fire or heat sources, such as candles, fireplaces, stoves and heaters, and keep it out of the path of household traffic.
- Dispose of the tree when the needles begin to fall off in large quantities. Do not burn the tree or its branches in the fireplace as updrafts can carry embers up the chimney and onto the roof of your home or your neighbor's.
- Check tree and outdoor lights for frayed wires, loose connections, broken or cracked sockets, and exposed wire. Discard damaged sets. Fasten lights securely, making sure the bulbs do not come into direct contact with the needles or branches.
- Outdoor lights should be specifically designed for outdoor use. When purchasing lights, buy only those that carry the approval of a national testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory. Use hangers specifically designed for outdoor light use; do not use a staple gun as staples can damage the cord.
- Unplug the lights when leaving home or retiring for the night.
- Ornaments and other decorations should be non-combustible or flame resistant. Do not place breakable ornaments or ornaments with small parts on lower tree branches where children or pets can reach them.
- Use only tinsel or artificial icicles that do not contain lead. Mistletoe and holly berries may be poisonous if swallowed; keep them out of the reach of children.
- Discard wrapping papers as soon as the presents are opened. Do not burn the paper in the fireplace as it can ignite suddenly and may cause a flash fire. Also, embers of the lightweight paper can be carried up the chimney and onto the roof, causing a fire.
- Color additives used in fireplace fires are a toxic product and should be stored out of reach.
- Artificial snow can be harmful if inhaled, so use it in a well-ventilated space.
- The holidays mean party time. Keep alcohol (including baking extracts) out of the reach of children and do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended.
“Making a home fire-safe during the holidays - and all year round - is not hard: All it takes is a little common sense,” Knabe continued. “It may mean more work on your part, but that little effort can keep your family safe from the tragedy of fire."
And, the fire chief has one last holiday safety suggestion: Make sure you have both a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector. It’s the law for homes to have both devices and they could save your family's life.
Further holiday and year-round fire prevention tips and information about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors may be obtained by calling the Fire Prevention Division of the Fullerton Fire Department at (714) 738-6500.