HCA West Florida Division - December 13, 2019

The signs of the season are popping up everywhere: lights on Christmas trees, candles in windows and stockings hung with care.

But these seasonal hallmarks can also bring the risk of fires and people getting burned.

"You should be able to focus on your family having a good time during the holidays," said Dr. Michael Van Vliet, medical director of Burn & Reconstructive Centers of America at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Florida. "Just like preparation is important for the festivities, it's also essential in avoiding potentially dangerous circumstances."

One of the biggest dangers is a live Christmas tree. It's important to make sure the tree is adequately watered: A common rule of thumb for watering Christmas trees is 1 quart of water per day per inch of tree trunk diameter.

"Christmas trees should be watered regularly to prevent them from catching fire," said Dr. Van Vliet. "It only takes a minute for them to burn out of control."

Regularly check your tree for fresh, green needles, and keep your tree at least 3 feet from fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, heating vents and other sources of heat.

It's also important to check the lights on your tree, as well as other electrical decorations. Make sure all bulbs are secured, electrical wires aren't frayed and outlets and extension cords are not overloaded.

Other tips for electrical holiday safety include:

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions, especially in regards to the recommended number of light strings that can be connected.
  • Turn off lights and decorations when you are not at home or are asleep.
  • All electrical accessories — light sets, extension cords, decorations, etc. — should be certified as tested for safety by engineers at Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
  • When decorating outside, only use lights and extension cords rated for outdoor use. Ensure outdoor lights, decorations and extension cords are rated for outdoor use. These will bear a red UL holographic symbol, while indoor-use items bear a green UL hologram.
  • Only use plastic hooks or clips to hang lights. Metal staples or nails can puncture wires and conduct electricity.
  • When hanging lights or working with electric decorations, only use a wooden or fiberglass ladder. Metal ladders can conduct electricity.

Candles can also be dangerous, especially if they are left unattended. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In December, 13% of home fires are caused by candles, as compared to 4% the rest of the year. Make sure candles are out of reach of children and not near any flammable materials.

"These are simple, practical suggestions because it's easy to overlook the importance of safety during the excitement of the holidays," said Dr. Van Vliet.