Holiday decorations: They’re pretty but potentially dangerous |

Holiday decorations: They’re pretty but potentially dangerous

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer

Decorations allow people to express their joy about the holidays in a creative way, but improper use could cause great harm, according to the Carson City Fire Department.

“People have to be very cautious about what they use, what decorations they mix and match,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bruce VanCleemput, the city’s fire marshal.

VanCleemput has story after story about how easily people can cause fires in their homes – especially during the holidays. Decorated dishtowels being used as curtains catching on fire after a candle flame hit them. Tree lights shorting out and causing an easy chair to smolder and burn.

Fires occurring during the holiday season injure 2,600 people and cause more than $930 million in damage each year, according to the United States Fire Administration.

Natural Christmas trees need consistent monitoring to ensure they receive adequate moisture. Watering may be necessary twice a day because people turn on heat and burn logs in their fireplaces to keep warm during winter, making the trees more flammable each passing day, he said.

Holiday lights placed on the tree further dry it out, and old lights radiate more heat than newer products. The wiring becomes faulty over time and could short out and spark a fire. Outdoor lights shouldn’t be used indoors.

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“Some people keep Christmas lights forever – replace them,” he said. “Even though they’re what Grandma had.”

The decorated tree should be placed far away from flammable items or heat sources. VanCleemput recited a partial list of items that need to be far away from the tree: drapes, upholstered furniture, toys, heaters, fireplaces and candles.

Candles never should be placed in or near a Christmas tree, or near anything else that might catch fire. And make sure candles aren’t in spots where people can knock them over, he said.

Natural trees should be taken down and put outside for disposal immediately after Christmas.

“It’s a dead plant, and the longer it sits, the more flammable it becomes,” he said.

Live trees can still catch on fire if, for example, a string of lights malfunctions or a candle comes in contact with it. VanCleemput – as do most firefighters – prefers artificial trees because they are less flammable and with safe decorations can stay up longer.

“Ambiance isn’t worth risking a hazard,” he said.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber or 882-2111, ext. 215.