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"Thinking of the holidays” brings to mind enjoyable visions of festive tables, traditional ceremonies and quiet, comfortable places of relaxation…all with candles prominently etched in those visions. For many, candles are a traditional religious element of the holidays. Others include them as a significant part of holiday decorating. While there are some who use candles for relaxation and therapy all year 'round and bring out the candles on a regular, and not necessarily holiday, basis.
But whatever the reason, the prevalence of those beautiful candles seems even more so during the holidays. Along with them come the Christmas trees, slowly and predictably losing their moisture in warm, dry living rooms, and fireplace mantles and hearths, laden with brittle-dry evergreen boughs and candles.
Now at this point it would seem natural and also predictable that a big CAUTION about fire safety would be in order. And it is! After all, nothing can ruin a great holiday more than a blazing Christmas tree in the corner of your living room or melting candles igniting your table centerpiece with 35 astonished guests commiserating about the uniqueness of your décor. We should all be cautious of not only our own decorations, but also those of others we may visit during the holidays.
Sadly, it reminds me of a news story I heard a few years ago. A 12-year-old daughter was the sole survivor of a candle-ignited fire that destroyed her home and killed her mother, father, and 5-year-old sister. “Investigators traced the source of the fire to a large candle set in a Christmas-style potpourri standing on a partition between the living room and the kitchen.” And every holiday season, there are many such tragic stories on the morning news.
Between 1999 and 2002, candles were the heat source in 8% of the home Christmas tree fires per year. And speaking of Christmas trees…they were the items first ignited in an estimated average of 310 reported U.S. home structure fires per year in 1999-2002. These fires caused an average of 14 deaths, 40 injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damage per year. These statistics include both real and artificial trees.
More than four of every 10 home Christmas tree fires are caused by an electrical problem or malfunction. One in four (25%) home Christmas tree fires resulted from a heat source placed too close to the tree. Seven percent were started by children playing with fire.
Sixty-one percent of home Christmas tree fires were reported in December, 22% were reported in January. Not surprisingly, the number of these fires spikes during the week of December 22-28.
These statistics are based on fires that started with Christmas trees and do not include fires starting with other products. A small fire that spreads to a Christmas tree can very quickly become large.
Holiday Safety Tips
When decorating with candles, be careful about placing candles too close to foliage (real or imitation) or other flammable items.
When decorating Christmas trees, always use safe tree lights. (Some lights are designed only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.) Larger tree lights should also have some type of reflector rather than a bare bulb and all lights should be listed by a testing laboratory.
Never use electric lights on a metal tree.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use tree lights. Any string of lights with worn, frayed or broken cords or loose bulb connections should not be used.
Check your strands of lights to determine the number of strands that may be connected. Connect no more than three strands of push-in bulbs and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
Always unplug Christmas tree lights and extinguish candles before leaving home or going to bed.
Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life.
Candles should be placed well away from your Christmas tree and should never be used to decorate your tree.
Try to keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water daily. Do not purchase a tree that is dry or dropping needles.
When purchasing a live or cut tree, check for fresh, green needles.
Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.
When purchasing an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire retardant.
Children are fascinated with Christmas trees. Keep a watchful eye on them when around the tree and do not let them play with the wiring or lights.
Store matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
Make sure the tree is at least three feet (one meter) away from any heat source, such as fireplaces and radiators. Try to position the tree near an outlet so that cords are not running long distances. Do not place the tree where it may block an exit.
Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are highly flammable and should not be left in a house or garage, or placed against the house.
So enjoy the holidays! Just take care of your tree and keep an eye on those candles. When decorating, be sensible and be safe!