Though candles and decorative lights are essential to many holiday festivities, Beretta Craft-Coffman, PA-C, of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America and the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital, wants to remind everyone that those open flames and decorations can also be dangerous. No matter what holiday you’re celebrating this December, she said, remember to unplug the decorations and blow out the candles before leaving the house or going to bed.
“There are many things that can go wrong when decorations are left plugged in for an extended amount of time or candles are left unsupervised,” she said. “Lights and cords can overheat, candles can ignite decorations, or overloaded outlets can catch on fire. Always give your electric decorations a break and make sure the areas around candles are free of flammable materials.”
Craft-Coffman recommends the following tips when using electric decorations this holiday:
- When hanging lights or working with electric decorations, only use a wooden or fiberglass ladder. Metal ladders can conduct electricity.
- Only use plastic hooks or clips to hang lights. Metal staples or nails can puncture wires and conduct electricity.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially regarding the recommended number of light strings that can be connected together.
- Always make sure decorations are not damaged in any way before plugging them in.
- All electrical accessories – light sets, extension cords, decorations, etc. – should be certified as tested for safety by engineers at Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
- When decorating outside, only use lights and extension cords rated for outside use. These will bear a red UL holographic symbol, while indoor items have a green UL hologram.
- Not all decorative lights can be used indoors and outdoors interchangeably. Only use them in approved areas.
Candles hold an essential role in many religious holiday rituals and traditions. It’s important to be aware, however, that candles are also a leading cause of fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than a third of home decoration fires are caused by candles. But Craft-Coffman believes that most of these fires can be prevented.
“Clear small spaces around the candles of all flammable materials and loose or dangling decorations. This way, if the candle tips over or throws sparks, there should be nothing to ignite,” she said.
Other candle safety tips include:
- Candles should be kept in a location where they cannot be touched, handled, or knocked over by children or animals.
- Never leave candles unattended for even short periods of time. Candles should be extinguished when you leave the room.
- Always use a candleholder. Candleholders should be very stable and not collect hot wax.
- Consider using electronic candles or wax warmers.
Lastly, if you’re decorating a live Christmas tree this year, make sure that it isn’t blocking any exits and that it stays watered.
“A dry tree isn’t a decoration anymore, it’s tinder. If something catches it on fire, it can cause an inferno in under 30 seconds,” said Craft-Coffman.