44 seconds that change Christmas fire awareness
By Robin Scott
The Christmas Season brings with it many treasured traditions, and decorating a Christmas tree certainly tops the list. The season is meant to bring happiness, and not tragedy. A home fire caused by lights and decorations could more than ruin the holidays. Fortunately, fires caused by holiday decorations are preventable.
Taking just under a minute to watch a video clip from the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology could save a life at most, and the very least, could save property. The video clip illustrates what happens when fire touches a dry tree. Within three seconds of ignition, the dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze. At five seconds, the fire extends up the tree and black smoke with searing gases streaks across the ceiling. Fresh air near the floor feeds the fire. The sofa, coffee table and the carpet ignite prior to any flame contact. Within 40 seconds “flashover” occurs, which is when the entire room erupts into flames, oxygen is depleted and dense and deadly toxic smoke engulfs the scene.
Preventing a Christmas tree or decoration fire is possible. Take note of a few safety tips when decorating for the holidays to ensure that the season is both enjoyable and safe. Purchase lights, extension cords and electric decorations that are UL-listed. Use only outdoor rated decorations, lights and extension cords for outside decorating. Putting indoor-only products outside in the weather can result in electric shock and fire hazards. A green color-coded holographic UL mark on the product’s package says, “indoors only, please,” while a red one indicates that the product is safe for both indoor and outdoor use.
Inspect all lights, electric decorations and extension cords for signs of damage to wire insulation, plugs, and bulbs. Bulbs may be replaced, but do not use any item until the repair has been made. Extension cords and plugs that are damaged should not be used at all. Replace those and discard the damaged ones.
Don’t change bulbs on decorations until unplugging the item first. Bulbs should be the correct wattage rating for the item. Using a bulb with too high a wattage can cause the light string to overheat, creating a fire risk.
Use a ladder made of non-conductive material when hanging decorations. Wood or fiberglass-reinforced plastic is preferable. Lights and decorations should only be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Another key safety tip is not overloading electrical outlets by connecting too many strands of lights end to end. The same is true for extension cords and the correct wattage of extension cord should be used for each decoration that requires the cord. A wattage rating is the amount of electricity that an extension cord is built to carry, and if the combined power requirements of items used exceed that rating, overheating and fire can occur.
Keep an eye on Christmas light wires to make sure that they’re not warm to the touch, and turn them off before going to bed or leaving the house. According to the U. S. Fire Administration (USFA), “Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries and more than $6 million in property damage. Typically, shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Well-watered trees are not a problem. Dry and neglected trees can be.”
When using an artificial tree, be sure it is flame retardant and select non-flammable decorations. Never put lit candles on any tree, and do not put wrapping paper in the fireplace. Do not use candles near Christmas trees or wrapped Christmas gifts. Don’t be embarrassed to be overly cautious. Safety is far more important than appearances.
The video clip is a profound and undeniable example of how quickly fire spreads, and believing it could be caught and put out quickly is nearly impossible. Visit www.usfa.dhs.gov then click on the “Holiday Fire Safety” box, look to the right and click on “view more clips,” underneath the video clip viewing box, from there select “Christmas Tree Fire Video Presentation” to view the fire that destroys the living area in 44 seconds.