Holiday Decoration Safety

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a list of holiday decoration safety tips, designed to keep you and your family safe.  Please consider these tips as you and yours celebrate the holidays this year.

General Holiday Safety Tips

Fires can be a devastating event.  To prevent fires, some general tips include:

  • Keep fire starting materials, such as matches and lighters, out of the reach of children.
  • If you smoke, be mindful of flammable decorations, as well as fresh cut Christmas trees.
  • Avoid loose or flowing clothing near open flames, including the fireplace, stove, and near burning candles.
  • Understand evergreens and pine can be hazardous when burned in a fireplace. When dry, evergreens and pine can quickly burn out of control.  In particular, evergreens can flare out of control, sending sparks into the room.
  • Have an emergency plan in case of fire. Practice the plan.  Make sure every family member understands their role, identify more than one escape route, and decide on an agreed upon meeting place.


Keep burning candles away from wrapping paper.  Do not mix candles with evergreens.  Be mindful of where candles are placed.  If a candle can be knocked down or blown over, consider moving it to a safer location.  Use candle holders that are non-flammable.

Tree Maintenance

If you choose to keep a real tree in your home over the holidays, be advised dry evergreen trees are a significant fire hazard.  There are, however, steps you can take to minimize the hazard.  First, place your tree in a location away from heat sources, including but not limited to radiators, space heaters, and fireplaces.  Rooms with direct sources of heat contribute to trees drying out quickly.   Make sure your tree is not in a common traffic area.  Instead, place the tree in a corner.  Use guide wires to secure the tree to the ceiling or walls if the tree is large.  Cut two inches off the base of a live tree trunk.  This provides for better absorption of water.  Make sure the stand is filled with water during the time the tree is in the house.

If you are not sure if your tree is fresh or not, check the following:

  • Fresh trees are green in color;
  • Fresh tree needles are difficult to pull from branches;
  • Bent needles, when fresh, do not break;
  • Fresh trees have tree stumps that are sticky with resin; and finally,
  • If you bounce a tree stump on the ground, and a shower of needles falls, the tree is too dry.


Before installing any lights, either inside or outside, check them for safety.  Examine all strands of light for broken or cracked sockets.  Look for wires that are frayed or bare.  Check for loose connections.  If lights are damaged in any way, do not use them.

Outside lights need secure fastening.  Fasten the lights to the house, fence, trees, or other supports to protect them from wind damage.  If you use extension cords, do not use more than three standard sets of lights per cord.  When you go to bed or leave the house, turn off the lights.  Turn off other decorations as well.  Lights may start a fire if they short out.

Electric lights should not be used on a metallic tree.

Fires in the Fireplace

Before starting a fire in the fireplace, take the time to clear the area.  All greens, boughs, wrapping paper, artificial snow, and other decorations should be removed.  Make sure the flue is open before starting a fire.  When in use, keep a screen in front of the fireplace.  A word of caution about “fire salts:” they contain heavy metals.  Fire salts produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires.  However, this makes them an attractive nuisance to children.  They can cause severe intestinal distress and vomiting if eaten.  Keep them out of children’s reach.

Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.  Wrapping paper can ignite suddenly.   It also burns intensely.  Wrapping paper should be disposed of properly.

Happy Holidays

From all of us at The O’Brien Firm, we wish you a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.