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Practice Fire Safety During Holidays
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Christmas lights draped along the roof, the smell of pine from live Christmas trees, flames bursting from the den window...wait! Flames bursting from the den window?
The sights and smells of Christmas add flavor to the holiday season, but if decorations are not used safely, the outcome could be deadly. To avoid safety hazards with decorations, follow these precautions to prevent fires caused by misusing Christmas trees and lights.
Cut about 1 inch off the base of a store-bought, live tree.
"If a tree has been cut, the rosin will ooze out of tree and seal over the base of the tree. Cut about 1/2 inch to 1 inch off the bottom to remove any rosin that may have sealed the tree from taking up water," said Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
Keep water around the tree trunk.
Capt. Thomas Walker, Tupelo fire investigator, had to put out a fire a few years ago that started from the heat of lights coming in contact with dried-out cedar branches. Luckily, no one was injured, and only a few presents were damaged.
Willcutt said this year's drought may mean there will be a lot of dry needles, but needles that are green should stay fairly green with normal care and plenty of water. Keep the tree away from sources of heat.
"Use miniature lights. Do not use candles near the tree. Turn the lights off anytime you are not in the room or when you don't expect to have viewers looking at the tree. Keep the tree away from fireplaces and wood heaters, and don't put the tree directly under a central heating vent. Live trees do best in cooler places of the house," Willcutt said.
Do not smoke near the tree.
As live trees dry out, they give off fumes that can ignite from an open flame. Any source of a spark within five feet of a tree could cause a dry tree to ignite.
Keep unattended small children and pets away from the tree.
Willcutt said they may pull the tree over, breaking lights and causing a spark and flames.
Keep the area around the base of the tree clean.
"As a precaution, clean around the base of the tree regularly, removing any shed needles that are a fire hazard. It is also a good idea to keep any brown, dying or dead needles out of the tree itself," Willcutt said.
Make sure outside lights are grounded.
Willcutt said to use UL-approved lights for outdoor lighting that can be plugged into a grounded three-way receptacle. The box the lights come in will usually say whether or not the lights are made for outdoor use.
Keep lights away from sources of water.
"If you put lights on the ground, put them where water will not drip on them," Willcutt said.
Make sure the roof and ground is dry when hanging lights.
"Do not go out to hang or plug in lights when the roof and ground are wet because they could short," Willcutt said.
Use heavy-duty extension cords.
State Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Millard Mackey said the Capitol building in Jackson was decorated with an artificial tree last Christmas, but an older commercial-grade extension cord was used to plug in the lights that stayed on day and night.
"The cord proved not to be in shape and caused an electrical short and fire in the Capitol. It burned a 5-foot hole in the base of the tree during the daytime, but no one was injured. The fire was minor in cost, but smoke damage was estimated at about $200,000," Mackey said.
Use a heavy duty-type cord, not a small non-grounding one. If the extension cord feels warm to the touch after it has been on an hour, it is overloaded.
Keep extension cords out of the walkway. Route extension cords away from traffic to prevent people from tripping over them and knocking down lights which could break and short.
Install a smoke detector and fire extinguisher in the home.
"Every home needs a working smoke detector. Make sure the smoke detector's battery is good, and change batteries during the time change in March and October or at the beginning of the year," Mackey said. "It is recommended that a home be equipped with a fire extinguisher."