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By Kelly Robertson
Pagosa Fire Protection District
Special to The SUN
Decorating homes and businesses is a long-standing tradition around the holiday season. Unfortunately, these same decorations may increase your chances of fire. It is estimated that 250 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 170 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year. A few simple fire safety tips can keep electric lights, candles and the ever popular Christmas tree from creating a tragedy.
Selecting a tree
Fresh cut tree — needles on a fresh tree should be green, hard to pull off the branch and the needles should not break. The tree trunk should be sticky to the touch.
Old cut tree — needles will fall off when the tree is bounced on the ground. The limbs are brittle and the trunk is dry to the touch. You will be able to remove needles easily when you pull on a branch with your hand. This tree is too dry, and is a fire hazard.
Keep the tree watered
Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including fireplace or wood-burning stove or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters, matches or a cigarette ash start tree fires. Do not put your live Christmas tree up to early or leave it up for more than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
Well-watered trees are not a problem. A dry neglected tree can be.
Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pickup service.
Maintain your lights
Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
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.
All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from vents. If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.
Don’t block exits. Ensure that trees and other holiday decorations do not block an exit way. In the event of a fire, time is of the essence. A blocked entry/exit way puts you and your family at risk.
Never put wrapping paper in the fireplace. Wrapping paper in the fireplace can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.
Avoid using lit candles
If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.
Never put candles on a tree. Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame — candles, lighters or matches.
As in every season, have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And remember to practice your home escape plan.
Have a fire safe holiday season.