Every year, the holiday season is spoiled by heartbreaking news about house fires that kill people. In some cases, the Christmas tree, which is the center of the holiday, is what starts a tragedy.
Last year, a Pennsylvania father and his two sons, ages 8 and 11, died on Christmas morning when their tree caught fire…
The fire, which police thought might have started with the Christmas lights on the family’s tree, burned down the whole house.
In Washington in the year 2020, two kids had to jump out of a third-story window to get away from their burning tree and get to safety.
And in 2019, a father and his three kids in California died when their Christmas tree caught fire and caused their house to burn down.
James W. Tomes, an expert on fire safety who talked to PEOPLE about keeping homes safe during the holidays, says, “The holidays are meant to be a time of joy.”
“A fire that burns down someone’s house or, at the very least, their Christmas presents, is sad enough,” says Tomes, 55, the president and CEO of Telgian, a leading fire-protection company based in Phoenix.
“But God forbid, someone dies in a fire during the holidays. That will be something that family remembers for the rest of their lives.”
Tomes doesn’t want people to be afraid of celebrating the holidays and decorating for them, but he also wants to make sure they are safe.
Tomes says, “I don’t like to scare people, but there have been terrible fires and deaths.” Here’s what he says:
Hanging Holiday Lights
Be sure to check them. Check to see if the cords are cut or if the bulbs are broken. Tomes says, “If it looks old and broken, it’s probably not safe.” “After a while, it’s safer and smarter to just go buy new lights.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can’t hang some indoor lights outside because “they’re not as tough” and “more likely to get broken.”
If you need to buy new lights for your tree, yard, or windows, look for the letters “UL,” which stand for “Underwriters Laboratories,” on the box.
“That means they’ve tested the product to make sure it’s safe and made it the right way,” says Tomes. And if you don’t have the box anymore, you can check the “UL” on the plug or the tag that’s attached to it.
Also, don’t use a staple gun to hold lights in place. Instead, use plastic clips. Also, don’t overload the circuits.
If you’re using incandescent lights, only string two or three of them together. Tomes says that if they don’t, the wires will get too hot, which can also be a problem.
When it’s time to put your lights away until next year, wrap them carefully in their original packaging and put them in a plastic container.
This makes the lights last longer and keeps mice from eating a ball of tangled lights. “The better, the more safe they are,” says Tomes.