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Letter to the Editor: Fire Safety During the Holidays

Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski is the chair of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission.

The holiday season should be a time of joy. But each year, fires caused by Christmas trees and holiday decorations bring tragedy to families all across the country. Research by the US Fire Administration shows a significant rise in fires and the danger of fires during the holiday season.

In recent years, the U.S. has averaged more than 200 fires each year that began with a Christmas tree or holiday lighting, many resulting in death or injuries. But there are simple steps that families can take to substantially reduce the risk of a fire over the holidays. 

The Christmas tree is a symbol of the holiday season for many, but if not properly selected and handled, it is a major fire hazard. Those who use an artificial tree should ensure that the tree is flame retardant. For those using real evergreens as part of your holiday decor, you can take these steps to increase safety and prevent a Christmas tree fire:

  • Make sure your tree is fresh when purchased. If needles are brittle or easily shed, choose a different tree.
  • When setting the tree up in your home, place it at least three feet away from any heat source. In addition to a fire place, stay away from radiators, heating vents and lighting. These can dry out a tree and increase its flammability.   
  • Keep your tree stand filled with water at all times.
  • Do not leave your tree up for an extended period. Fire safety professionals recommend you do not leave it up any longer than two weeks.
  • When you dismantle your tree, discard it immediately and properly. Do not leave it in a garage, on a porch or at the side of a house. A dried out tree is highly flammable and can still cause major damage from these locations. Check with your local community for a recycling program or other disposal options.

In addition to the Christmas tree, holiday lighting represents another major fire hazard but, again, simple steps can greatly reduce the risk.

  • Always make sure your lights have the label of an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Such organizations carefully test products to ensure safety and reliability.
  • Replace any lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. These are hazards that can ignite a fire.
  • Avoid stringing together too many strands of lights. In general, that means no more than three strands of mini lights or 50 screw-in bulbs but remember that LED lighting can burn hotter and may have greater restrictions. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use.
  • Never leave Christmas tree lights on if the tree is unattended. Unplug them when you go to bed or leave the home. 

In celebrating the holidays you should also avoid using lit candles in the house and never use them on a tree. If you do use them in the house, make sure they are in stable holders, place them where they cannot easily be knocked over and never leave them unattended.

Finally, make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are operating properly.

Each year at the holiday season, there are always news stories of families whose holidays were turned into a tragedy because of fire. Don’t let your family suffer such a fate. Take these common sense precautions to help protect you and your family.

My wish for everyone is for a festive and safe holiday season.

-Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D-Middlesex)

Chair of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission

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