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Play it safe this season

Yuletide decor can pose safety risks

November 26, 2012
By Ilsa Matthes - staff writer ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - With the holidays right around the corner, many homeowners are busy decorating. However, holiday decorations are frequently the cause of property damage, injuries and sometimes even death.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 14,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorating and decorations annually during the two months surrounding the holidays. Fires are also frequently the cause of property damage around the holidays, and can easily be started by flammable decorations being exposed to heat or electricity.

"If (you) have a real tree, keep it watered. Don't let it dry out," said Lt. Robert LaMarche of Escanaba Public Safety, who added that fires caused by dry trees were one of the most frequent holiday decoration accidents reported to Public Safety.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, Christmas trees are the cause of around 250 home structure fires annually. These fires cause approximately 14 deaths, 26 injuries, and $13.8 million in property damage.

Real trees should have about two inches cut from the bottom of the trunk and be placed in a sturdy, water-holding stand. The stand should be refilled with water frequently to prevent the tree from drying out.

Those purchasing an artificial tree should look for a statement on the packaging stating the tree is fire resistant. Fire-resistant trees may still catch fire, however they are less likely to ignite than real trees.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International reports that 45 percent of all home decoration fires during the holidays are caused by candles. Christmas, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Day are the top three days for candle-related fires every year.

Fires are not the only cause of decoration-related injuries during the holidays. Falls account for around 5,800 of decorating-related emergency room visits during the season, according to the ESFI. More than half of those injuries were caused by falls from roofs or outdoor ladders.

"I've never met anyone in 15 years that's fallen off a roof, but that doesn't mean it can't happen," said LaMarche.

The National Safety Council recommends the feet of straight or extension ladders be placed one foot away from the surface they rest against for every four feet of ladder height.

Besides the risk of falling while putting up Christmas lights or other outdoor decorations, decorations that use electricity pose an added risk of fire or shock.

"Don't overload your extension cords," said LaMarche, adding overloaded extension cords and overloaded home wiring were frequent causes of reported fires.

According to the CPSPC, no more than three standard-size strings of lights should be plugged into a single extension cord. Only extension cords which are approved for outdoor use should be used outside.

Water creates an extra risk of electrocution and fire for decorations which use electricity. Plugs for extension cords and strings of lights should be kept off the ground and away from puddles and snow.

Both lights that are intended for outside decoration and those that are used on indoor trees should be checked for frayed or bare wires, broken bulbs, or loose connections. Damaged light sets should be replaced or repaired.



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