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Forsyth fire department offers safety tips for tree decorating

FORSYTH COUNTY — While the oven may still be warm and the refrigerator spilling over with Thanksgiving leftovers, many families have begun decorating their homes for Christmas.

As houses begin to twinkle and living rooms begin to smell like pine, Forsyth County Fire Department officials are encouraging residents to take safety precautions in their holiday decorating.


Christmas trees


According to Forsyth Fire Division Chief Jason Shivers, possibly the most important safety note to remember when putting up a Christmas tree is to never bring an open flame — or even a cigarette — near it.

Keep them well away from operational fireplaces and heat-producing appliances.

“All it takes is a single spark on a dry Christmas tree, and it can almost instantly become an inferno in your living room,” Shivers said.

When choosing that perfect pine, look for one that is still fresh. As soon as they are cut, they begin to dry out.

Here are some tips for selecting and decorating a Christmas tree:

* Fresh trees should have needles that are lush and green and hard to pull from the branches.

* The trunk should still be fairly sticky with sap.

* Bounce the tree on its trunk a few times. Avoid trees that have an excess of needles falling to the ground.

* Just before placing the tree in its stand, cut a half-inch off the bottom of the trunk to prevent the sap from sealing it from absorbing water.

* Make sure a real tree always has water.

* If buying an artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant and pick one that has been tested and approved by an independent laboratory.

* When trimming the tree, do not throw needles and branches into a fireplace. Every part of a real Christmas tree is extremely flammable and can overwhelm an indoor fireplace.


String lights


While untangling what can seem like miles of string lights, ensuring that they are still safe and usable should be a priority.

Here are some tips from the fire department for putting up lights and decorations on the exterior of a home:

* Inspect string lights each year before hanging them, looking for frayed or exposed wires, bare spots or gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets or any kind of excessive kinking or wear.

* Only buy strands with a laboratory testing approval. Often, the cheapest brands do not meet safety regulations.

* Avoid linking more than three strands together unless the direction say they are designed specifically for strands beyond three at a time. Refer to directions if possible.

* Once hung, periodically check strands to make sure they’re not warm to the touch. Discard if there is heat coming from the wiring.

* Do not leave holiday lights on unattended.

* When hanging lights from gutters or railings, plug them into an outlet that is ground-fault protected.

* Do not climb a ladder to hang decorations alone. Always have someone at the bottom to hold and stabilize the ladder.


Decorating indoors


Hanging decorations inside the house comes with safety precautions, too, especially when open flames are being placed.

Here are some tips for decorating the inside of a home:

* It is always a best practice to not use real candles, Shivers said, but if so, never leave them unattended, even to take a shower or step outside.

* Use real candles with caution and in moderation.

* Hang non-flammable or flame-retardant decorations, especially near a fireplace or open flame.

* Hang stockings over the fireplace only if there will be no fire lit.


Fireplace safety


Now that the first cold snap has swept through Forsyth County, Shivers said, many people will begin using their fireplaces more regularly.

Do not light a fire if the chimney and flue have not been inspected this season, he said. A fireplace and chimney must be swept every year.

“We respond to many, many chimney fires every winter,” Shivers said. “And a chimney fire can be quite dangerous.”