The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), as a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), reports that holiday fires are responsible for claiming the lives of over 400 Americans, injuring thousands more, and causing almost a billion dollars in damage.

When considering our overall safety as citizens, most Americans do not realize that the Department of Homeland Security involves itself with issues beyond acts of global violence or national terrorist threats. In fact, DHS surprised many last month by issuing a code red warning on their Twitter page to warn of the potential national threat of turkey fryer fires over Thanksgiving!

As we approach Christmas, we can look to DHS again for safety tips when considering whether to purchase a tree for the holidays. Special fire safety precautions should be taken for such holiday decorations. In fact, a publication entitled, “A Season for Sharing in Fire Safety” issued by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has a number of life-saving steps. These are excellent ways to help ensure that all of us have a safe holiday and avoid any bodily injuries, casualties or property damage.

Consider these points:

Indoor Trees

1)      Select only “fresh” trees. Older trees are easily identifiable by brittle or falling needles which can significantly lead to a fire hazard. For those who prefer to purchase artificial trees, make sure they are flame retardant.

2)      Avoid placing any tree next to heated areas such as fireplaces, an oven, vents or areas where cigarette ashes are placed. Putting a tree next to heat or flames can cause it to ignite.

3)       Dispose of your tree properly. Do not discard trees or needles in a fireplace or stove.  Call for a special tree pickup service or take it to a recycling center.

4)      Never put lit candles on a tree – enough said.

5)      Ensure the safety of your home by installing or maintaining smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.

Holiday Lights

1)      Inspect your holiday lights each year and throw away damaged sets. While holiday lights can make the season brighter, unfortunately these popular twinkles can become dangerous after years of use due to exposed wire, loose connections and burned-out bulbs.

2)      Do not leave holiday lights unattended. Leaving an indoor tree lit without proper supervision increases the risk of a fire.

3)      Do not overload electrical circuits with holiday lights, as doing so makes it a fire hazard.

4)      Keep children away from trees and lights. Young children are drawn to decorative lighting. They should never be allowed to string themselves with holiday lights or other ornaments.

5)      Purchase nonflammable or flame-retardant decorations.

Escape Plan

1)      Design a home escape plan in the event of a fire or emergency. Make a list of important contacts such as police, fire, family and neighbors. Determine the best areas of escape for a particular apartment unit or home.

Taking these precautions will help to make certain that you and your loved ones have a happy and safe holiday this season.