TRENTON, N.J. –The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) Division of Fire Safety is sharing a host of safety guidelines and tips in an effort to prevent fires that often result from holiday celebrations.

 “As we welcome the holiday season and its season of giving, we want to remind everyone of the importance of fire safety,” said DCA Commissioner Richard E. Constable III.  “By practicing a few common sense precautions around traditional holiday practices, these types of fires are preventable and can be avoided.”

Data from the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) shows that between 2006 and 2010, fire departments annually responded to an average of 230 home fires that started with Christmas trees. Additionally, decorative lighting was the cause of an estimated average of 160 home structure fires per year in this same period. Combined, they resulted in an average of 13 deaths, 34 injuries, and more than $26 million in direct property damage per year.

“Especially this year, New Jerseyans are looking forward to spending a festive time with friends and family,” said Acting Division of Fire Safety Director and State Fire Marshal William Kramer, Jr. “Yet, an un-watered Christmas tree or an unattended candle can change that in an instant.”

He added that many of the hazards associated with traditional holiday celebrations can be avoided by following a few simple, sensible suggestions to keep home and hearth safe.

Live Evergreen Christmas Trees

• Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and should not break if the tree has been freshly cut.

• The trunk should be sticky to the touch.

• Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long and has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.

• Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame, or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree.

• Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

• Do not put your live tree up too soon before Christmas or leave it up for longer than two weeks.

• Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.

• When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.

Decorative Holiday Lighting

• Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Only use lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
• Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.
• Do not leave holiday lights on unattended.

Holiday Decorations

• All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents. If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.
• Ensure that trees and other holiday decorations do not block an exit way. In the event of a fire, time is of the essence. A blocked entry/exit way puts you and your family at risk.

• Disposing of wrapping paper in the fireplace can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire.

Holiday Candle Safety

• Consider using battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like real candles.

• Make sure candles are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn.

• Never leave a room or go to bed with candles burning.

• Never use any flame near a tree.

Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarms

• Place a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home.

• Place a smoke alarm on every level of your home and one outside each bedroom.

The Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in the State. The Division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code, as well as for implementing public education and firefighter training programs.

For more information about the Division of Fire Safety, log on to on the DCA website, or call (609) 633-6106.