The holidays present unique dangers, from the obvious to the obscure. Here’s some expert advice from your local firefighters and national safety organizations on the known risks and how to avoid them.
1 Dead Trees
“When a tree is not watered adequately, it can become extremely dry and pose a huge fire risk,” said Daisy Mountain Fire & Medical spokesperson Brent Fenton. “A Christmas tree should never have its lights left on overnight, nor should it be left on when no one is home.” And, of course, make sure the tree stays watered. Plain water is all you need, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
2 Flickering Flames
“Candles should never be left unattended, and should never be placed near any flammable surfaces or materials,” Fenton said. Kids or dogs can knock them over, he pointed out. Also, curious kids are often burned by candles, he said, “and have sustained serious burns from clothing catching fire.”
3 Decoration Disasters
The list of flammable materials that deck the halls is long, from tissue paper and fuzzy felt to tinder-dry pine cones. Decorations cause one-in-four home fires during the season, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Keep all these at least 3 feet from any heat sources, especially candles, fireplaces or space heaters.
4 Space Heater Harm
“Many fires have been caused by improper use of space heaters,” Fenton said. They cause more than 25,000 home fires and 300 deaths a year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Never leave them unattended. Never plug more than two heating appliances into one outlet. Don’t use unvented space heaters, including some propane and kerosene models, or any type designed for outdoor use only.
5 Electrical Overload
More than 47,000 home fires each year are caused by electrical failures or malfunctions, resulting in more than 400 deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Overloaded outlets and circuits are a main cause. If a wall plate is warm, making crackling noises or smells funny, you have a serious problem. One way to avoid such problems: Don’t use multi-outlet converters, and limit the use of extension cords.
6 Getting Frayed
No matter how sentimental those lighted decorations that have been passed down the generations are, check for frayed wires and (sorry!) toss them.
7 Left Unattended
Interior holiday lights, space heaters, candles and other decorations should all be off when you go to bed or when nobody is home.
8 Dead Alarms
Smoke alarms are useful only if they’re in good working order. If you haven’t changed the batteries in a year or more, do it now, and test the alarms to make sure they’re working. [See Page 20.]
9 Batteries for Breakfast
Keep all batteries in packages and out of reach of small children. Small “button” batteries, as one example, can burn the esophagus and require immediate surgery. Other batteries fit neatly into noses and ears. If someone swallows a battery, immediately call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666.
10 Oopsie Daisy!
Grandma probably won’t get run over by a reindeer, but she could easily trip on a poorly placed extension cord. Make sure all cords are in safe spots, and don’t run them under rugs or furniture.
SOURCES: DMFM/EFSI/NFPA/CPSC/NCTA/U.S. Department of Energy/National Poison Control Center