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Decorate for Holidays with Safety in Mind

The holiday season has arrived, and people throughout New York State are putting up decorations. It is crucial that they do so with safety in mind. Holiday decorations can present injury risks – specifically fire and burn injuries.

As the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported last December, between 2009 and 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires each year in which a Christmas tree was the first item ignited. These incidents resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss.

Additionally, candle-related fires between 2009 and 2011 resulted in an estimated 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss, according to the CPSC. Candle-related fires can involve menorahs (Hanukkah is December 16-24 this year) and luminaria, or lanterns that are typically made of a candle placed in sand inside a paper bag.

As you begin your decorating this holiday season, please pay close attention to the following tips from the CPSC, the National Safety Council and New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and Office of Fire Prevention and Control:

Christmas Trees

If you select a natural tree, choose one that is fresh – and less likely to burn. You can tell if a tree is fresh by its needles. They should be hard to pull from the branches and should not break when bent between your fingers. They also will not fall from the tree as it is moved. There should also be sticky resin at the bottom of a freshly cut tree.

Cut about two inches off the trunk and place the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Check the water daily to make sure the tree does not dry out too quickly.

If you select an artificial tree, make sure its label states that it is “fire resistant.” If it already has lights, make sure it bears the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label.

Put up any tree where it is far away from heat sources such as heaters, vents and lamps as well as away from fireplaces or other sources of open flame or sparks.


If you add lights to a tree, make sure they are indoor lights. Outdoor lights are bigger and hotter and will dry a tree more quickly. The lights should also be UL-approved.

Check the lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires and loose connections. Replace or repair any damaged light sets.

Use no more than three light sets on any one extension cord. Avoid using multi-socket plugs and receptacles and overloading circuits.


Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish all candles before leaving home or going to bed.

Use sturdy candle holders made of non-combustible materials, and place candles about two feet away from anything that could catch fire.

Make sure candles are out of the reach of young children and pets that may knock them over. Put matches and lighters away so children will not be tempted to play with them.

Extinguish votives and container candles before the last half-inch of wick starts to melt.

After the Holidays

The National Fire Protection Association reports that nearly 40 percent of home fires that begin with Christmas trees occur in January. Lights and dried-out trees can pose significant fire hazards inside and outside of the home.

When taking holiday decorations down:

  • Do not leave a Christmas tree in the home, garage or outside your home.
  • Never burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove.
  • Check locally to find a recycling program for your Christmas tree.
  • As you unplug electric decorations, use the gripping area provided on the plugs.
  • Never pull the cord to unplug a device from electrical outlets.
  • Inspect strings of lights for damage. Throw out light sets that have loose connections, broken sockets or cracked or bare wires.
  • Store electrical decorations in a dry place where they cannot be damaged by water or dampness.

As long as you keep safety in mind, the holidays should be an enjoyable and memorable time.

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