PLATTSBURGH — It's that time of year again, when the Christmas lights go up, candles become more prominent — and home fires skyrocket.
That's why area firefighters are reminding everyone to be aware of holiday hazards.
"This time of year, people just don't realize how a bad set of Christmas lights can cause a fire," said Jeff Jacques, a Lake Placid firefighter and the local spokesperson for the Firemen's Association of the State of New York.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires occurring throughout the holiday season claim 400 lives nationally, injure more than 1,600 people and cause more than $990 million in fire damage each year.
The state group and the Clinton County Firefighters Association have recommendations to help residents to have a safe holiday.
When purchasing decorations, make sure they are made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant or noncombustible materials, and look for the UL mark on each.
UL is the Underwriters' Laboratories, where engineers test representative samples of products for safety hazards.
If you are pulling out old lights from last year, make sure the wires aren't frayed, bare or loose, and inspect them thoroughly before using them.
Avoid overcrowding power strips and extension cords.
One safety tip that many overlook, firefighters say, is checking packaging to determine the maximum number of strings that can be connected.
But other factors contribute to fires, such as how well residents take care of their Christmas trees.
Trees that have dried out over several weeks ignite much more easily, so be vigilant about keeping them watered.
Try to avoid placing the tree near radiators, space heaters, fireplaces and other heat sources, experts advise.
And always turn the electrical lights off before you leave the house or go to sleep.
Christmas trees have caused an average of 13 deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in property damage annually from 2005 to 2009, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.
Though a popular decoration for the holiday season, candles are a major contributor to holiday fires.
From 2003 to 2007, an estimated 15,300 home fires started by candles were reported to local fire departments, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.
"People love candles," Jacques said.
"Kids and animals can knock those over. It's a good way for a fire to start going."
Avoid placing candles near decorations, curtains and other combustible materials or where a person or pet could easily knock them over.
Using candle holders that collect dripping wax and ones that won't tip is smart.
Extinguishing the candles when two inches of wax remains — or a half-inch if the candle is in a container — can prevent heat-damage mishaps.
Checking decorations and lighting can help to reduce the number of fires each year, but residents are also urged to be mindful in the kitchen.
According to the Fireman's Association, while Thanksgiving is the peak day for home-cooking fires, cooking-equipment fires were 55 percent higher on Christmas Eve and 68 percent higher on Christmas Day.
"The more (information) we can put out there ... (the more it will) reduce the number of fires, the number of injuries and the number of properties damaged by fires each year," Jacques said.
"Hopefully, that will prevent somebody from losing their life or losing their house."
Area fire departments welcome residents to call or stop by their stations with any questions on holiday fire safety.
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