Keep safety in mind as you put away holiday decorations

Now that the holidays are over, take down your decorations and start the New Year safely, advises the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories Inc., the not-for-profit product safety testing organization.

According to the NFPA, 20 percent of home fires attributed to Christmas trees occur in January. "Christmas trees can be a significant fuel source if a fire occurs in your home," said Lorraine Carli, NFPA assistant vice president of communications. "Dried-out trees burn easily and should not be left in a garage or placed against the house. We recommend you remove your tree from the home and dispose of it properly as soon as your Christmas celebration ends."

"Even well-watered trees dry out after four weeks," John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager for UL, explained. "So if your real tree went up right after Thanksgiving, it should be discarded after Christmas and not New Year's Day."

Carli and Drengenberg also remind you that Christmas trees aren't the only holiday decorations that need prompt attention after the holidays.

"Leaving your decorations out for several months or even all year not only aggravates your neighbors," Carli said, "but it also leaves the wires exposed to rain, snow, cold, the sun, squirrels and birds longer than intended by the safety standards."

"Many people don't realize that holiday lights should only be up for a limited time," Drengenberg continued, "The safety standards are developed anticipating a maximum of 90 days of use per year because these decorations are considered seasonal. If you leave decorations out any longer, the resulting damage could cause an electrical shock or a fire hazard."

As you unplug and store your lights - whether indoors or outdoors - remember the safety precautions you take now can prevent hazards from occurring next season.

Following is a checklist of safety tips that are not only helpful to stay safe as you take down your holiday decorations, but are useful all year-around.

• When using electrical toys or appliances for the first time, carefully read and follow all instructions in the manufacturer's use and care booklet. Make sure electrical toys and appliances have the UL Mark.

• Use the gripping area provided on the plugs to unplug electric decorations. Don't pull plugs from electrical outlets by the cord. Yanking or tugging on the cord can damage the cord's wire and insulation and could lead to an electrical shock or fire.

• When putting away electrical light strings, take time to inspect for flaws. Check each light set for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires and loose connections.

• Dispose of worn or broken light sets and replace them. Do not place a faulty set of lights back into the storage box for next year's use. Store electrical decorations away from children and pets to ensure that cords and wires are not damaged in storage.

• Store electrical decorations in a dry place where they can not be damaged by water or dampness.

• To keep from having a tangled mess of lights next year, be sure to pack them appropriately. When preparing your holiday lights for storage, you can purchase a holiday light storage reel, or create your own storage systems. For example, wrap the lights around an empty wrapping paper tube or a cardboard square, or wrap each set of lights and put them in individual plastic bags.

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