Two nonprofit agencies provide tips for keeping trees fresh and using candles and lights safely

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent safety testing organization, are partnering this season to remind consumers about the importance of safe holiday decorating habits.

REDUCING THE RISK OF CHRISTMAS TREE FIRES

With more than 32 million homes decorating real trees this season, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), there is no doubt that this holiday season will bring cheer. While it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday shuffle of dinners, gifts and travel, safety should be at the top of everyone’s list.

Keeping fresh Christmas trees well-watered is not only vital to the tree’s decorative longevity, but also to keeping consumers safe this holiday season. If ignited, a dry tree can become engulfed in flames in a matter of seconds, as opposed to a well-watered tree, according to the Christmas Tree Association. With so many people decorating trees for the holidays, this safety detail is more important than ever.

“Because many trees have been dormant for a couple months, it’s typical for them to absorb most of their water within six to eight hours after being brought into a warm home. Families should make a fresh cut to the trunk and place the tree in water as soon as possible once getting it home,” said Beth Walterscheidt, a tree farmer from Texas and president of the National Christmas Tree Association. “Trees that are kept fresh during the holiday season are difficult to ignite, which is why it is critical for consumers to commit to the care of their Christmas tree.

“If the water level falls below the cut surface for more than four to six hours, the tree’s ability to keep absorbing moisture is inhibited.”

In addition to keeping trees watered daily, John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager for Underwriters Laboratories, reminds consumers to dispose of them after four weeks.

“If you put up your Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving, it needs to be taken down the week after Christmas,” Drengenberg said. “After New Year’s, even well-watered trees can become a fire hazard.”

On average, real and artificial Christmas trees are the first items ignited in an estimated 210 home fires annually, according to the most recent National Fire Protection Association statistics. While this represents a small portion of the estimated 85 million households that display a tree, consumers need to commit to taking care of a fresh tree, and keep flame sources away from plastic trees, to reduce the risk of their tree being involved in a home fire.

CAUTION ALSO URGED WHEN USING CANDLES

“Christmas Day holds the record for the highest number of reported home candle fires,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications at the National Fire Protection Association. “Consumers should keep in mind that if they’re going to use candles, they need to place them away from things that can burn. It is also important to keep candles away from children and pets to avoid the risk of having them accidentally tipped over.”

The National Fire Protection Association also reports that candles caused an estimated 15,600 home structure fires reported to local fire departments in just one year. These fires caused an estimated 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries and $539 million in direct property damage.

Because of this high risk, Underwriters Laboratories and the National Fire Protection Association urge people to practice a few safety precautions before, during and after their celebrations.

— Regularly check your tree for fresh, green needles. Trees that have dried out over several weeks burn faster than fresh, well-watered trees. Remember to keep your tree watered at all times.

— Always keep candles, as well as matches and lighters, out of the reach of children, and don’t leave children unattended in a room with lit candles.

— Look for the holographic UL mark on light strings and electrical decorations. The UL mark means that UL engineers have tested samples of the product for safety hazards.

A green holographic UL mark means the device is for indoor-only use.

A red holographic UL Mark indicates that it can be used indoors or outdoors.

— Carefully inspect each electrical decoration, new or old, before plugging it in. Cracked sockets, frayed, bare or loose wires can cause a serious electric shock or start a fire. Replace damaged items with new, UL-listed decorations.

— Take down holiday lights after a maximum of 90 days of use to prevent damage from weather conditions and neighborhood animals.

More tips about holiday decorating safety, candle safety and cooking safety are on the UL Newsroom Web site, www.ul .com/newsroom or the NFPA Web site at www.nfpa.org/.

ABOUT UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES (UL)

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing Standards for Safety for over a century.

UL says it tests more than 19,000 types of products, components, materials and systems annually with more than 21 billion UL marks appearing on 71,000 manufacturers’ products each year. UL’s worldwide family of companies and network of service providers includes 66 laboratories and testing and certification facilities serving customers in 104 countries. Information, http://www.ul.com/newsroom/

ABOUT THE NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION (NFPA):

The National Fire Protection Association says it has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training and education. Information, www .nfpa.org/.

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