State fire marshal offers tips for a safely decorated home
NASHVILLE—The winter holiday season should be a joyous time of year. However, certain types of fires and injuries associated with decorating are all too common and can put a damper on holiday celebrations.
“Nearly half of holiday decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source,” says State Fire Marshal and Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “To decrease your risk for a home fire, keep fire safety in mind as you deck the halls this season.”
Candles are widely used in homes throughout the holidays, and December is the peak month for home candle fires. The National Fire Protection Association’s statistics show that two of every five home decoration fires are started by candles.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office encourages Tennesseans to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. However, if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where one-third of U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep.
Holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage were involved in an estimated average of 150 home structure fires per year for the past five years in the United States. These fires caused an average of nine civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $8.4 million in direct property damage per year. Two out of five, or 40 percent, occurred in December and 12 percent were in January. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of the fires involving holiday or decorative lights.
Consider the tips below when you bring out the holiday decorations this year. And remember, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly, and keep them equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Don’t forget to practice your home escape plan!
- Maintain Your Holiday Lights. Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Not all holiday lights are made equal so be sure that you know whether yours are for indoor or outdoor use and use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory. Use clips, not nails, to hang lights to keep cords from getting damaged.
- Do Not Overload Electrical Outlets. Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires—they should not be warm to the touch.
- Do Not Leave Holiday Lights on Unattended. Turn them off when you leave the house or go to bed.
- Use Only Nonflammable Decorations. All decorations should be flame resistant or flame retardant and placed away from heat vents and other heat sources.
- Never Put Wrapping Paper in a Fireplace. It can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers and may result in a chimney fire.
- Artificial Christmas Trees. If you are using a metallic or artificial tree make sure it is flame retardant.
- Avoid Using Lit Candles to Decorate. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never put lit candles on a tree. Blow out lit candles when you leave the room or go to bed. Never leave a child alone in a room with a lit candle.
- Keep Escape Routes Clear. Do not block exit routes with trees or decorations.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is a division of the Department of Commerce and Insurance, which works to protect consumers while ensuring fair competition for industries and professionals who do business in Tennessee.