The Consumer Products Safety Commission and other experts offer these tips to make your holiday a safe one.

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Candles

  • Always use non-flammable holders.
  • Extinguish a candle when two inches of wax remain. If the candle is in a container, leave at least a half an inch of wax to prevent heat damage to the surface.
  • Place candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over. Keep them away from greenery (including a Christmas tree), decorations--and people. Loose clothing can catch fire.
  • Keep candles away from wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbons and other flammable wrappings. Remember to monitor kids as they unwrap gifts.

Lights & Cords

  • Ensure that outdoor lights, decorations and extension cords are rated for outside use by an independent testing laboratory. Lights intended for indoor-only use, for example, might bear green UL marks on the product or on the packaging if approved by Underwriters Laboratory. (Light strings intended for indoor and outdoor use bear red UL marks.)
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets. Replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
  • Don’t use bubble lights because the liquid is a risk to children.
  • Don't use staples or nails to hang light strings. Instead, purchase plastic hooks or clips designed for hanging.
  • Don't overload extension cords by plugging in too many decorations. Attach no more than three standard-size sets of lights to a single extension cord.
  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. Lights can short and start a fire.
  • For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).

Christmas Tree

  • Artificial tree: Look for a label that says "Fire Resistant." In the event the tree catches fire, it should extinguish quickly.
  • Metallic tree: Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  • Fresh Tree: Pick the freshest, green tree you can find. Needles should stay firmly attached to the branch when tugged and spring back when bent. The trunk should be sticky with resin, and when the tree is tapped on the ground, it should barely shed needles.
  • When you put a live tree in the base holder, remember to keep it filled with water at all times. Fresh trees pose a risk as the needles and bark dry out.
  • Place the tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources. Heated rooms dry trees out rapidly, creating fire hazards.
  • Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. Use thin guy-wires to secure a large tree to walls or ceiling. These wires are almost invisible.
  • Never fasten spotlights to a tree. Put them above or beside the tree.

Decorations and Trimmings

To keep children and pets out of harm's way, keep decorations well out of reach.

  • Avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable.
  • Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children and pets. Pieces could be swallowed or inhaled.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food. A child could eat them!
  • Avoid using artificial snow because they can irritate the lungs if inhaled.
  • Keep holiday plants away from buffet and dining areas and off the floor, where kids and pets play. Place a tray or drop cloth underneath each pot to catch leaves, twigs and berries. When eaten, a handful of holly berries can induce nausea and vomiting. And while poinsettias are not toxic, their leaves and stems may cause stomach upset. Mistletoe and the Jerusalem cherry plant could cause serious injury. Both slow the heart, and the cherry plant's berries may even induce coma.

Fireplace

  • Don’t burn tree branches or gift wrapping in the fireplace. Flames can flare out of control, and send sparks flying into a room, or up the chimney to ignite creosote deposits.
  • Keep a screen in front of the fireplace when a fire is burning.
  • Use care with “fire salts” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals which can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation or vomiting if eaten. Keep away from children.

Sources:

Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 07 Dec 2012

Last Modified: 07 Jan 2015