Christmas decorations might spark more than just the holiday spirit within.
If not properly maintained, they could be a fire hazard.
Christmas trees, the centerpiece of holiday celebrations, were the cause of an average of 310 house fires reported between 1999 and 2002, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
A fresh, moist tree is a good way to avoid fire danger, official say.
Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann, the department's training officer, said that when choosing a tree, purchasers should conduct a pull test. He suggests running a hand along a tree branch or shaking the tree. If a lot of needles fall off, the tree is too dry.
"They should be checked every day to make sure there is plenty of water in the bowl," Kuhlmann said.
Trees should be placed away from heat sources that will quickly dry them.
Improperly maintained lights also are a source of holiday fires.
Kuhlmann said indoor and outdoor lights should be UL-approved, meaning they have been inspected and approved by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. The lights should be checked each year to ensure there are no exposed or broken wires or broken bulbs.
"If you are in doubt, get a new strand (of lights)," Kuhlmann said. "And it is always good to use a surge protector, a power strip."
He said to never leave indoor or outdoor lights plugged in while sleeping or away from home. Most fires occur at night and smoke does not wake people up. Smoke, which causes the majority of fire deaths, actually causes people to go into a deeper sleep, according to Martinez-Columbia officials.
Smoke detectors are the first line of defense.
"They (homeowners) should have one in every room except the kitchen and the bathroom," Kuhlmann said.
Candles are of concern as well.
In 2002, an estimated 18,000 house fires were started by candles, according to the National Fire Protection Association's most recent statistics.
Kuhlmann said candles should be placed away from vents, drafts and air currents and away from Christmas trees and other flammable items.
"Never leave candles unattended," Kuhlmann said, "especially if you have kitty cats that can knock them over."
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