By Paul Netter
Southern California Edison
If there is a prima donna of holiday decorations, it’s the Christmas tree.
It is usually the center of attention and is very high maintenance. It can also be very hazardous.
A reminder of this occurred when, overnight, a Christmas tree-caused fire last year destroyed a La Palma home. Fortunately, the homeowner and his dog — aided by a smoke alarm — escaped without injuries. But Christmas tree-caused home fires can be very serious, with a deadly 2015 fire in Maryland sadly illustrating that point.
Southern California Edison urges smart and safe decorating this holiday season to combat the 160 reported home Christmas tree fires nationwide that annually cause an average of two deaths, 11 injuries and $12 million in property damage.
“Electricity creates wonderful holiday displays, but it is critical that potential hazards are eliminated from our decorations,” said Nicole Kraus, senior advisor of Operational Risk Management & Public Safety at SCE. “For instance, our trees should always be kept at least three feet away from heat sources. Also, because dried-out trees are a fire hazard, live trees should be watered daily, and artificial trees should be fire resistant. Neither should ever be decorated with worn light strands or broken bulbs.”
Electrical failures or malfunctions cause nearly one-third of Christmas tree ignitions, while roughly one-fourth result from heat sources like space heaters and candles being too close to trees. Candle fires peak in December, so flameless candles are highly encouraged as an alternative.
Outdoors, decorators should beware of power lines, always keeping themselves and equipment, such as ladders, at least 10 feet away. Lights or decorations should also never be installed on power lines or utility poles, and if you ever encounter a downed power line, stay away and call 911.
SCE provides additional dos and don’ts for decorating this holiday season safely:
- Keep lights directly away from carpeting, drapes and other flammable materials.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how many light strands to connect.
- Use plastic zip cords instead of nails, staples or tacks when hanging lights.
- Avoid unsafe and counterfeit electrical decorations, using only those listed by independent safety organizations like UL Solutions or FM Approvals.
- Use only fiberglass or wooden telescoping or long-range tools, staying at least 10 feet away from power lines while being mindful that vegetation may block visibility.
- Make sure all home smoke alarms are working.
- Always unplug electrical lights when leaving home or going to bed.
- Remove batteries from decorations when storing them.
- Never throw water on an electrical fire. Use a properly rated fire extinguisher.
- Never overload extension cords and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when connecting them to light strands.
- Never connect two extension cords to extend their length.
- Never place electrical cords in a pinched position, like in a window or door.
- Never use electrical products outdoors that are marked “for indoor use.”
- Never use metal ladders since they conduct electricity. Use wooden or fiberglass ladders instead.
About the author: Paul Netter is a communications executive at Southern California Edison.