Before decking the halls, Lubbock Fire Rescue and South Plains Electric offered a few tips to help keep holiday and tree decorating fun and safe through the season.
LFR Capt. Kevin Ivy said fire departments across the country respond to an average of 200 homes per year for Christmas tree fires.
“That’s quite a bit so that’s one reason we wanted to get the word out and let everybody know while it is an intricate part of the Christmas spirit, it’s still one of those things that can be deadly if it’s not taken care of — especially with real Christmas trees.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration website, one in four home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problem; and while these types of fires are uncommon, one in every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires results in death.
For real Christmas trees, Ivy said the overall shipping and purchasing process can leave trees a little dried out as it maybe two months from the time it’s cut down, purchased and ultimately discarded after the holidays.
On Facebook, LFR posted Christmas tree safety tips, warning that a small fire that spreads to a tree can grow quickly.
The post suggest choosing a fresh tree with green needles that do not fall off when touched.
If purchasing a real tree, Ivy said, cut at least two inches from the base before placing it in the stand to allow a fresh surface to receive water. Watering the tree on a daily basis is critical to keep it from drying out.Once the tree is up, the post suggests placing it at least three feet away from any heat source such as fireplaces and candles.
Before placing lights on your tree, Lynn Simmons, director of communications for South Plains Electric Cooperative, said it is important to make sure there is a UL listing code on all of the lights.
“There’s just so many lights on the market,” she said, “you want to make sure you’re not buying cheap lights. You want to make sure you are buying UL listed lights and purchasing UL approved extension cords.”
UL, she said, stands for Underwriters Laboratories and is considered a global leader in product safety and certification.
While it is safe to use outdoor lights inside, Simmons said, indoor lights and extension cords should never be placed outdoors as they are not made to withstand weather.
For outside lights, she said, all cords should always be plugged into an outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter — GFCI — which will shut the power off it it begins to short circuit due to moisture in the lights.
These outlets are similar to those found near sinks in bathrooms, kitchens and utility rooms because of the potential contact with water.
Another important safety tip is to check lights for cuts, nicks, frays and broken bulbs.
If a strand has any cuts, Simmons said do not repair with tape, but discard the lights immediately.
So what happens if the lights are plugged in and a bulb is not working?
Simmons said do not replace the burnt-out bulb while the strand is plugged into an outlet: “Unplug it. The part of that socket that conducts electricity to the light bulb — without the light bulb, then it would conduct the electricity to you.”
When outdoor lights are good to go, she said people should never use staples or nails to hang up strands as the use of plastic holders are the safest way to decorate your home.
She also said it is important to keep ladders at least 10 feet away from power lines and decorating should be done during the day so that all lines are visible.
“You want to make sure if you’re decorating outside,” she said, “look up and look out, especially close to your house. You never want to throw holiday lights or decorations into a tree next to a power line, because if you’re holding the other end of the lights and the lights happen to contact the power line, it will injure you.”
For indoor decorating, the LFR tips also suggest checking strands for broken cords or loose bulb connections, and it is also advised people read manufacturer’s instructions to check the number of lights strands to connect.
Ivy said worn-out and broken strands can pose a fire hazard for not only real trees but artificial ones as well, possibly igniting in just a matter of seconds.
And while very little heat is generated from the the bulbs themselves, Ivy said it is important to turn off both inside and outside Christmas lights during overnight hours or while stepping out.
Lastly, he recommends disposing of a real tree as soon as it dries out and needles start falling.
“When a real tree gets dry, or even just an artificial tree, once it catches on fire it’s just instant,” he said. “It catches on fire fast, and it doesn’t take long at all for the whole room to catch on fire. And we realize that decorating is an intricate part of Christmas, and there’s nothing wrong with it just as long as you’re safe about it.”