Consumer News

Beware Of Christmas Decoration Dangers

A fire department cadet monitors a Christmas tree that is on fire during a holiday safety fire demonstration. (credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

A fire department cadet monitors a Christmas tree that is on fire during a holiday safety fire demonstration. (credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

(CBS) – Holiday decorating can be fun, but it can also cause some serious fire hazards. There are some safety tips you should take this holiday season.

Now’s the time for stringing the lights and trimming the tree, but are your decorations dangerous? They could be.

“Counterfeit extension cords and Christmas tree fires are major concerns during holiday time,” explained “Early Show” Consumer Correspondent Susan Koeppen. “So, as you dust of your old Christmas decorations this season, be careful, because they just might be a serious fire hazard.”

The lights, the trees, the decorations, Koeppen noted, can make for a beautiful time of year, but also dangerous.

Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International, told CBS News, “People are using more energy than they’re used to and intrinsically you have more things around that can catch fire.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas tree fires cause more than $16 million worth of property damage each year. Holiday lights account for nearly $9 million in damage.

Brenner said, “It’s very important you’re making sure those devices are safe in your home.”

To see firsthand what happens when decorations turn disastrous, Koeppen went to the State Farm Research Lab outside Chicago.

On a Christmas tree, they put a string of lights with a frayed wire. When they plugged it in, the wire began to smoke, and within seconds the tree totally caught on fire.

Brenner said, “We’re in a controlled laboratory setting with 30 to 50-foot ceilings, you can imagine what would happen in a home with eight-foot ceilings.”

Experts from the Electrical Safety Foundation International say counterfeit lights and extension cords can also be a huge problem during the holidays.

Brenner said, “Many times they’re using less expensive materials, which actually cause the fire itself. The wires inside the devices will not support the load. It really creates and dangerous situation.”

In another test at the lab, they put a counterfeit extension cord with a space heater. First smoke, then fire.

Brenner said, “It caught fire so quickly it was even surprising to me. The fact is, if that was behind someone’s couch or in someone’s home, that could definitely start a home fire.”

To keep safe and avoid holiday fires, experts say never overload electrical outlets, inspect decorations for loose wires, buy lights and cords from trusted retailers, and always unplug decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

“Respect electricity,” Brenner said. “Electricity is great when it works, but it’s uniquely unforgiving in that it can easily start a home fire.”

Koeppen added if you’re going out to buy a real tree, look for one that has fresh green needles.

She said, “And make sure you water the tree. A dry tree can go up in flames in a snap. Keep it about three feet from any heat source like a fireplace or radiator.”

And if you’re buying a fake tree, she said look for one that says “fire resistant.” And if you’re replacing your lights this year it’s a good idea to look for LED holiday lights that are cool to the touch, and can save on your electric bill.