Deck the halls with boughs of safety

When Ralphie Parker’s dad attempts to plug his glorious but tragically fra-gee-lee “Italian” leg lamp into an overloaded wall outlet in the holiday movie classic “A Christmas Story,” there first came a “snap of a few sparks” and the “whiff of ozone” before the lamp blazed forth in the front window.

While that’s a funny movie scene, those at Indiana Electric Cooperatives want to remind you overloaded circuits and sparks are never funny, especially this time of year. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association, one of every three home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems. And though not common, Christmas tree fires are more serious than typical home fires. One of every 31 reported Christmas tree fires results in a death. 

“This is such a beautiful and special time of year,” said John Gasstrom, CEO at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “It’s always tragic to hear of home fires and loss of life, especially when it’s caused by something like a Christmas tree or holiday decorations meant to bring joy and celebration.”  

Here are some things to keep in mind when decorating your home for the holidays:

  • If you decorate with a real tree, make sure it’s fresh. Needles should not drop or come off easily. 
  • When you get your tree home, cut a few inches off the bottom of the trunk and immediately place the tree in water, even if you do not yet intend to decorate it.  
  • Make sure the tree is watered daily throughout the holiday.
  • Decorate the tree with LED lights that do not get hot and use 75% to 90% less electricity for the same amount of light.
  • With any light set, carefully inspect each light and the cord. Cracked and loose bulbs and frayed or bare wires can shock or start a fire.
  • Follow the manufacturer instructions on how many strands can be connected together. It differs based on the type of light.

Obviously, Ralphie made it to adulthood to look back warmly on that Christmas he got a BB gun in “A Christmas Story.” And even though he almost shot his eye out and the neighbor’s hounds ate their turkey, at least the Parkers were not displaced, or something worse, by the old man’s overloaded outlets. 

Tips for a safe holiday season 

Your friends at your electric co-op want you to have a happy — and safe — holiday season. Here are some easy ways to ensure you deck your halls free from fires, falls and fears.

  • When putting up outdoor lights, fasten them securely to trees, your house, walls or another firm support. You want them to remain secure when it’s windy outside. But do not staple them or use nails that can damage the wire’s insulation. Plastic zip ties make an excellent way of securing strands to other stable objects. 
  • There’s a limit to the number of strands you can connect together. Follow the manufacturer instructions because it differs.
  • Extension cords can occasionally overheat. Periodically touch-test the cord. If it’s hot, unplug it.
  • When running extension cords outside along the ground, elevate plugs and connectors with a brick. That will help keep snow, water and debris out of the connections.
  • It’s lights out at bedtime and when you leave the house — that includes the lights on your trees and other decorations. Lights can short and start a fire.
  • When it’s time to pack the lights away until next year, make sure you put them in a well-sealed container that will keep them dry and away from hungry rodents. 

Sources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission,

Holiday safety tips for kids

Keep an eye out for younger family members when putting up the holiday lights.

  • Those popular lights shaped like candles perched on “bubbling” colored liquid should be kept away from youngsters who may be tempted to break the glass and drink the colorful, hazardous liquid. 
  • Handmade paper ornaments can cause fires if they come in contact with electrical connections.
  • Most strings of Christmas tree lights are coated with plastic containing lead. Since the amount of lead varies greatly, it’s difficult to determine how dangerous the lights might be. To be safe, don’t allow young children to handle the lights.
  • Playful youngsters can easily get tangled in light strings. Watch children closely and warn them of the dangers.

Sources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission,