The holidays can be a time of joy, but they can also be a time of potential hazards, safety and health officials said.
Safe Kids Kansas reminds parents and caregivers to take a few precautions when decorating for winter festivities. Holiday decorations, especially candles and electrical lighting, can be a fire hazard.
During 2004-2008, the National Fire Protection Agency estimated that decorations, excluding Christmas trees, were the item first ignited in an average of 1,170 reported home structure fires per year. Half of these fires occurred because the decoration was too close to a heat source. Forty-five percent of these incidents were started by candles.
These blazes kill over 400 Americans during the holidays and cause millions in property damage.
“Just be careful,” said Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano. “Have a safe Christmas.”
“With four of the top five days for home fires occurring around Christmas – Dec. 23, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day – we should all take precautions and avoid fire hazards during the holidays,” said Janel Rose, Barton County Health Department health educator. “We should try to make this a ‘fire-free’ holiday this year in our community.”
Rose said battery operated candles are a much safer choice than lighted candles if you have small children or household pets.
Also, Cherie Sage of Safe Kids Kansas advises folks pay attention to labels when choosing your lighting. “Decorative lighting should be labeled with the seal of an independent testing lab,” she said. “If it’s not labeled for outdoor use, don’t use it outdoors.”
Napolitano said to not use staples to attach lights to a home’s exterior. They can puncture the insulation, cause a short and spark a fire.
NFPA said that Christmas trees, both natural and artificial, were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 240 report home structure fires per year during 2005-2009.
If you decorate a tree, Napolitano and Safe Kids Kansas recommend these precautions:
• Never leave a lit Christmas tree or other decorative lighting display unattended. Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections and broken sockets. Do not overload extension cords or outlets and do not run an electrical cord under a rug. Also make sure lights are UL approved.
• Natural Christmas trees always involve some risk of fire. To minimize the risk, get a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times or consider an artificial tree. Do not put the tree within three feet of a fireplace, space heater, radiator or heat vent. LED lights burn cooler than incandescent lights and pose a lower risk of fire. A tree can be completely engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes.
• Decorate with children in mind. Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them. Trim protruding branches at or below a child’s eye level, and keep lights out of reach.
• Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.
• Never leave burning candles unattended. Don’t put candles on a tree or a natural wreath, or near curtains or drapes. Keep matches and lighters locked out of reach. Battery-operated flameless candles are an alternative that does not have a fire risk.
• And, have an escape route planned incase of a fire.
Safe Kids Kansas also offers these tips to prevent accidental poisoning:
• Keep alcohol (including baking extracts) out of reach and do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended. Don’t forget to store all medications, including those for children, out of reach.
• Color additives used in fireplace fires are a toxic product and should be stored out of reach. Artificial snow sprays are also harmful if inhaled.
• Holly berries, mistletoe berries, poinsettias, amaryllis, boxwood, Christmas rose, Crown of Thorns, English ivy and Jerusalem cherry are all potentially harmful if eaten. If a child eats any part of a non-food plant, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.
And, there is not just a risk for children. “We not only need to worry about children and holiday decorations, but our pets also could be at risk,” Rose said. Everything from chewing on electrical cords for Christmas tree lights, to tipping over lit candles that might start fires, to ingesting holiday treats like chocolate or even plants that might make them sick.