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Remember Fire Safety This Holiday Season

Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D-19, Middlesex), Chair of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission, today released the following column reminding residents of the increased risk of home fires over the holiday season and highlighting steps they can take to reduce such risks.

Sayreville, N.J – – 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.

In selecting a Christmas tree, those who use an artificial tree should ensure that the tree is flame retardant. Those using real evergreens as part of holiday décor should make sure the tree is fresh when purchased. If needles are brittle or easily shed, choose a different tree.

When setting up a tree in the home, it should be placed at least three feet away from any heat source. These include a fireplace, radiators, heating vents and lighting, which can dry out a tree and increase its flammability. In addition, tree stands should be filled with water at all times.

Fire safety professionals also recommend trees not be left up any longer than two weeks. When dismantling a tree, it should be discarded immediately and properly. It should not be left 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. People should also check with their 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.

Holiday lighting should always carry the endorsement of an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Such organizations carefully test products to ensure safety and reliability. Worn or broken cords or loose bulbs should be replaced. These are hazards that can ignite a fire.

In decorating a tree, people should also avoid stringing together too many strands of lights. In general, that means no more than 3 strands of mini lights or 50 screw-in bulbs. Manufacturers’ instructions for LED lighting should be checked for proper use as these can burn hotter and may have greater restrictions. In addition, Christmas tree lights should never be left on if the tree is unattended. Unplug them when you go to bed or leave your 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 and placed where they cannot easily be knocked over and never leave them unattended.

Finally, residents should check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure these are operating properly.

Each year during the holiday season, there are always news stories of families whose holidays turned into 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.