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Fire officials say check Christmas light sets carefully

December 09, 1997

Fire officials say check Christmas light sets carefully

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Saving a little money isn't worth the risk of using worn or faulty Christmas lights when decorating for the holidays, warn fire officials, who say going the cheap route can lead to a home fire.

Before hanging a string of lights, make sure it not only works but is in perfect shape, Deputy State Fire Marshal W. Faron Taylor said.

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Even Christmas lights with Underwriter's Laboratories approval can become damaged over time, said Taylor, whose office is in Towson.

The damage could have occurred when the lights were taken down the year before, been caused by chewing pets or happened while they were in storage, he said

People need to check them before each use to make sure the insulation is intact and that there are no frays, cracks or exposed wires, Taylor said.

It's not worth taking a chance if they're not perfect, he said.

"Christmas lights are pretty inexpensive. If you have any questions about their integrity buy new ones," he said.

Although outdoor lights are designed to be used outside, the fact that they're subjected to the weather speeds their deterioration, Taylor said.

That's not to say old sets should automatically be tossed, he said.

But lights should be inspected closely while being put up, Taylor said.

It's not a good idea to try to patch wires with electrical tape or make any other type of repair to keep them going, he said.

"If there's any question, just dispose of them," he said.

For those who are going to have a live cut Christmas tree in their homes, it's important to keep it well watered, Taylor said.

If the tree dries out, it will become more susceptible to catching fire, he said.

A tree's freshness can be checked by bending the branches, Taylor said.

The needles should be pretty pliable, he said.

If they snap, it's a good indication that the tree is drying out and possibly should be removed from the house, Taylor said.

Trees should be kept away from heat sources, not only because of the possibility it will ignite the tree but also because it will make it dry out faster, he said.

Be extremely careful to keep trees away from fireplaces, Taylor said.

If candles on a Christmas tree are a family tradition, it's time to break it, Taylor said.

Lighted candles never should be used on a Christmas tree, he said.

A lot of people who are careful with their Christmas trees don't seem to use the same care when decorating with fresh greenery, which has the same characteristics and susceptibility to fire as a Christmas tree, Taylor said.

Magazine layouts showing a fireplace with a roaring fire and a mantle covered with greenery can be blamed to an extent, he said.

People need to realize those are for aesthetics only and shouldn't be used as a guide for real-life decorating, said Taylor, who said one magazine admitted to airbrushing a fire into one of their photos.

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