How to Decorate Safely for the Holiday Season

Each year fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of over 400 Americans, injure 1,650 more, and cause over $990 million in damage.[1] Here are some simple life saving steps you can take to ensure a safe and happy holiday season.


  1. Image titled Decorate Safely for the Holiday Season Step 1
    Prevent Christmas tree fires. Special fire safety precautions need to be taken when keeping a live tree in the house; a burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases.
    • Select a tree for the holiday. Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.
    • Ask the tree seller to cut off 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5cm) off the end; this will improve the tree's ability to take up water, keeping it greener for longer.
    • Caring for Your Tree. Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent; it should be at least 3 feet (approximately 1 meter) from any heat source. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree.
    • Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.
    • Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
    • Disposing of your tree. Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.
    • If you're using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.
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    Take care with holiday lights. All electrical lights should be treated with care to avoid the potential for fire or electric shocks. If you can, upgrade to LED (light-emitting diode) lights; these are safer because they don't generate heat.
    • Maintain your holiday lights. Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
    • Don't run cords under rugs; this is a fire hazard.
    • Do not overload electrical outlets. Do not link more than three light strands per outlet, unless the directions indicate it is safe to do so. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires - they should not be warm to the touch.
    • Use heavy gauge extension cords; they are much harder to fray and they remain cool.
    • Tape down cords that are in traffic areas and could easily be tripped over. Blue masking tape will keep the cords firmly in place against the floor and prevent tripping, without damaging paint.
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    Be alert to the hazards holiday decorations can cause. Holiday decorations can become fire hazards or choking hazards if not placed thoughtfully. Here are some things to be aware of:
    • Use only non-flammable decorations - all decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant. Place decorations away from heat vents.
    • Never put wrapping paper in a fireplace. It can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers and may result in a chimney fire.
    • Keep small and breakable decorations out of the reach of babies, toddlers, cats, dogs, and any other pets. Ornaments can easily be swallowed and turn into choking hazards when curious hands and paws get hold of them. In addition, take care when hanging tinsel, stringed decorations, etc., to avoid tripping or strangulation hazards.
    • Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them.
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    Be candle wise. While candles are a long-loved tradition for some families at Christmas, they can also be a major fire hazard if left unattended or near flammable items.
    • Avoid using lit candles if possible. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning; if you think you're going to be distracted, consider putting them out when you leave the room, or not using them at all.
    • Never put lit candles on a tree. Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame - candles, lighters or matches.
    • Do not put candles out by blowing - blowing on them can send sparks and hot wax flying, which can easily cause a fire. It is safer to extinguish them with a snuffer or a spoon.


  • Color additives used in fireplace fires are a toxic product and should be stored out of reach. Artificial snow can be harmful if inhaled, so use it in a well-vented space.
  • Trim protruding branches at or below a child’s eye level, and keep lights out of reach.
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And remember to practice your home escape plan.


  • Don't have a power strip sitting under the tree; it can overheat and catch on fire, or water from the tree could spill into it and spark.
  • Turn off the lights when no one is around to watch the tree.
  • Keep alcohol (including baking extracts) out of reach and do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended.
  • Mistletoe berries, holly berry and Jerusalem cherry can be poisonous. If they are used in decorating, make sure children and pets cannot reach it.
  • Beware of the fire dangers of a tree: Most importantly keep your tree wet rather than dry. When a flame touches a dry tree within three seconds of ignition, a dry tree can be completely ablaze. It is possible that the burning tree sparks the entire room to erupt into flames where oxygen is depleted and dense, deadly toxic smoke engulfs the scene.[2]

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