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State fire marshal urges residents to be fire-safe this holiday season

Following fire safety practices is a key for a joyful season

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[December 17, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- The holiday season is a time full of joy and decoration for holiday festivities. The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal provides reminders to caution residents as they decorate for the season.

In Illinois, from 2005 to this year, 122 fires have been associated with holiday decorations and Christmas trees, with 28 of those fires happening last year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, electrical failures and malfunctions of Christmas lighting are found in 33 percent of structure fires during the Christmas season. Approximately 150 home fires in the United States during this season are linked to the same cause. Almost half of these fires occurred in December.

"Using common sense while decorating is vital during this season," said State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis. "Simply inspecting old holiday lights and decorations before using them could be the difference between life and tragedy."

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal offers the following tips to consumers:

Christmas trees

  • When using an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as UL-listed.

  • When using a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don't fall off when touched, which could mean the tree is brittle and dry, making it hazardous. Before placing the tree in a stand, cut 1 to 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily.

  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit and is at least three feet away from any heat source, such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or space heaters.

  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the room or going to bed.

  • After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage or placed outside the home.

Christmas lights

  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.

  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections.

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  • Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.

  • Read the manufacturer's instructions for the number of LED strands safe to connect.

  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher close by.


December is the peak month for home candle fires, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day representing two of the top five days for associated fires. More than half of all candle fires start when candles are placed too close to combustible household items (i.e., curtains, lamp shades, other fabrics and plastic) and holiday decorations (i.e., trees, garland, stockings, wrapping paper and wrapped, boxed gifts).

  • Consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles.

  • If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.

  • Use candleholders that are sturdy, won't tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces.

  • Avoid using candles in the bedroom, where 2 of 5 U.S. candle fires begin, or other areas where people may fall asleep.

  • Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.

  • Always put candles out before leaving the room.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher close by.

For more information about fire safety and prevention, visit or

[Text from Office of the State Fire Marshal file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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