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Safe Decisions Take the Scary Out of Halloween Décor

Starting with candles, smart and careful choices about decorations and costumes are the best ways to prevent electrical and fire accidents.
By Paul Netter

When it comes to safety hazards and Halloween decorations, nothing holds a candle, unfortunately, to candles.

Montebello Fire Department Capt. Fernando Palaez calls Halloween “the beginning of high season” for candle fires. Halloween is the fourth-highest day for candle fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, trailing only Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

Each year, candles in jack-o’-lanterns being too close to flammable decorations and costumes lead to more than 900 home fires. Nearly half (41 percent) of home-candle fires are caused by combustible materials like the spider webs, witches and goblins displayed at Halloween being too close to candles or heat sources like lightbulbs and heaters.

Overall, from 2011-13, there were an estimated 10,300 fires in the country over a three-day period around Halloween that caused an estimated 25 deaths, 125 injuries and $83 million in property loss, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System.

There is a simple solution for candle fires: battery-operated, flameless candles.

“We strongly encourage people to decorate with and use battery-operated candles,” said Palaez. “They provide the same effect as a burning candle and they are so much less dangerous.”

But, the decorating dangers don’t end there.

Palaez also urges against overloading and overusing extension cords. Overstressed extension cords can deteriorate and create a dangerous shock or fires.

“When decorating, no more than three strands of light should be used per extension cord,” said Don Neal, Southern California Edison’s director of Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety. “But most of all, extension cords are a temporary, not long-term solution. The best and safest solution is to have additional outlets installed where you need them by a qualified electrician.”

Decorators should always look up and look out for power lines and never install lights and cords within 10 feet of the wires on utility poles. Decorations should be marked for outdoor use and plugged into Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter-protected outlets.

Decorations that have been in storage should also be inspected carefully to get rid of any decorative lighting or components with cracked or frayed wiring since these can cause electrical shocks, burns or fires. Decorations should also bear the labels of trusted independent safety organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

“The best approach to a fun and safe Halloween involves smart and careful placement of the right decorations and lighting and thoughtful costume and decoration selections involving flame-resistant, flame-retardant or non-combustible materials,” said Neal. “Always select with safety in mind.”

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