Today at Berkeley Lab nameplate Berkeley Lab
Monday, December 12, 2005


Helpful Tips for a Safe Holiday Season

Fire Safety

  • Christmas trees can be a significant fire hazard. Click here to view a video showing how severe and rapidly a Christmas tree fire develops.
  • A freshly cut or potted tree has a higher moisture content than a pre-cut tree, making it less likely to burn. Cut about ½ inch off the trunk just before putting the tree in the stand, and then fill it with water.
  • Water your tree daily, or as necessary to keep the base of the trunk submerged. Some Christmas tree farms offer the option to treat the tree with fire retardant.
  • If you prefer an artificial tree, choose one made of flame retardant or noncombustible material.
  • Secure the tree in a sturdy base to avoid tipping hazards. Avoid piling gifts in such a way that they come into contact with lights or power cords.
  • Avoid placing the tree next to the fireplace, wood stove, and heater or heat vent to prevent the tree from drying out.
  • Always keep plastic ornaments away from hot light bulbs. Styrofoam ornaments should be avoided.   Both materials can ignite easily and cause a fire to spread rapidly.
  • Resist the urge to burn your tree in the fireplace.   It can cause or increase the risk of a chimney fire due to the heavy sap content.   In the interest of fire safety and the environment, take advantage of the tree recycling program in your community.
  • Consider replacing older light stringers with LED lighting. LED lighting reduces fire concerns and additionally provides dramatic energy savings.

Electrical Safety

  • Use of festive lighting both indoors on the tree and outdoors attached to the house or landscaping can pose fire and electrical shock hazards.
  • All outdoor lighting must be rated for outdoor use; usually a label is affixed to the light stringers or printed on the stringer. This rating refers to the fact that the wiring is manufactured to a different standard of water resistance and mechanical protection.
  • Do not staple and/or nail this type of lighting as it may damage the insulation and cause a short circuit. Instead, use plastic hooks and hangers designed for this type of installation.
  • Do not connect more than two or three light stringers together as per manufacturer's installation instructions. Since the circuit breaker is usually capable of handling more current than the wire in the light stringer, the wire may overheat and cause a safety hazard or fire due to current overload.   Do not use electric lights on metal artificial trees.   Keep in mind that these light stringers are usually two wire devices and are ungrounded. Do not work on these devices unless they are unplugged. All holiday lighting should be turned off or unplugged when leaving the home or retiring for the evening.
  • Another consideration at this time of year is electric portable heaters. These devices produce a lot of directional heat. Make sure not to aim this heat at combustibles such as wrapped presents, trees, or other materials. Electric heaters also consume large amounts of power and can cause circuit breakers to trip, or fuses to blow when used with other electrical devices.

Safe Driving

Driving during the holiday season can be especially hazardous.   Inclement weather, heavy traffic and high stress can contribute to accidents.   Watch out and remember to:

  • Buckle-up
  • Keep your vehicle ready for wet weather
  • Turn on your headlights for the best visibility (it is now California law to have your headlights on any time your windshield wipers are required)
  • Avoid or minimize use of cell phones while driving
  • Focus on safety first
  • Do not drink and drive

By following these suggestions, we can reduce the risk of a holiday fire and injury. However, the increased risk is still present, and this is an ideal time to test your smoke detector(s) and install new batteries if needed.

Should you have any questions, contact Gary Piermattei (x6370), Fire Protection Engineer, or Tom Caronna (x4314), Electrical Safety Engineer.


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