Dont let your holidays go up in flames


Gifts nestled beneath the Christmas tree. Nearby stockings hung with care. A peaceful evening watching the twinkle of holiday lights upon the green tree branches. But in a mere four seconds, your Christmas tree could be a flaming torch - engulfing not only your holiday decorations, but also your home.

Chuck Chaffin, deputy fire marshal with the Lake Oswego Fire Department in downtown Oswego, said that the holidays pose many fire dangers for homeowners. But there are quick, preventative measures that could not only save your tinsel and garland, but your house and family.


Christmas trees - while elegant and festive - are also dangerous when not properly tended to.

After bringing the tree home, Chaffin recommends giving the trunk a fresh cut. Similar to trimming the stems on flowers, cutting the end of the tree ensures that the tree can absorb water to remain fresh.

Add water daily to the tree stand. An average tree can consume between a quart and a gallon of water per day. By keeping the tree fresh, it is less susceptible to dry out and become easily flammable. Check the needles on the tree branches before you take it home. If the needles feel firm and do not fall off, the tree is probably fresh.

'If (the tree is) brittle out there in the parking lot, it's only going to dry out super fast in your home when you bring it into a heated environment,' said Chaffin.

Chaffin suggests monitoring not only the dryness of your tree, but also the garland.

'We suggest waiting (to get garland) until closer to your party. Have garland for a couple weeks and then replace it,' said Chaffin. 'You don't know when that garland was cut. When you buy it, take a feel and see if it's soft and pliable and all the needles are in tact.'

As the holidays come to a close, recycle the tree properly.

Visit the Metro-region Web site at for recycling information in your neighborhood. Lake Oswego and West Linn city Web sites also have local tree recycling information.

'If you're going to dispose of your tree afterwards never, ever, ever cut it up and put it in your fireplace,' said Chaffin. 'It's very flammable and most fireplaces are not built for those types of things.'


Holiday lights add to the ambiance and visual spender of this time of year. But they are also an electrical and heating danger.

There is a limit to how many light strands can be connected together. While connecting multiple light strands together is easy to do and often illuminates the lights, it poses threat of electrical shock or a fire.

'With most of the Christmas lights, you can't hook more than three or four strands together,' said Chaffin. 'We'll go to homes where there will be fifteen lights strung together.'

Traditional Christmas lights produce a bit of heat.

'The drier the tree gets the more susceptible to being set on fire,' said Chaffin. 'Only use miniature lights on the Christmas tree. Never use the outdoor big light bulbs. Many people think that since they've had them since 1980 and they work they're going to keep using them. What happens is that (the big lights) dry the tree out that much faster.'

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue - which serves Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties - encourages homeowners to always use outdoor lights outside and indoor lights inside and never use light sets with broken sockets, missing sockets or frayed and cracked wires. They also encourage homeowners to turn off all lights when going to bed or leaving the house because lights can short out and start a fire.

Electrical cords should not be run underneath rugs. This prevents the cord from releasing heat and could lead to a fire. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Electrical Safety Foundation International warns not to overload outlets or extension cords with too much wattage - space heaters, holiday lights, microwaves. Check the maximum capacity of an extension cord.

And never plug two extension cords in one another. Instead, use one cord long enough for the purpose.


Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or to go to sleep, Chaffin suggested.

Place candleholders on sturdy, uncluttered surfaces where they cannot be knocked over by children or pets. Keep candles away from combustibles - clothing, curtains, decorations, holiday trees, paper and garland.

'Along with trees drying out, garland dries out very, very fast. I was in one house that had the garland wrapped around the stair railing that was so brittle that it just crumbled,' said Chaffin. 'If you were to take a match to it, it would be like having a can of gas.'

In addition to monitoring trees, lights and candles make sure heaters are used properly and not too close to combustible objects. Monitor sideboard heating and move items at least a foot away.

Talk openly with family members about fire safety and form an escape plan in case a fire occurs, said Chaffin. Working smoke alarms alert you to fire and more than double your chances of surviving a fire.

Make sure smoke detectors are working properly and plan an escape route from every room. The Oregon State Fire Marshal recommends practicing this escape plan with your family at least twice a year.

Establishing an escape plan is 'perfect for any time of year,' said Chaffin.

For more winter fire safety tips, visit the Oregon State Fire Marshal Website at

The Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Website also has winter safety tips, along with local fire statistics at