Light your way safely

You have the giant Santa, Rudolph, and 400 strings of lights. But before you go transforming your house into a winter wonderland, take a minute to make sure you set it ablaze with lights, not fire. Charlottesville Fire Marshall Steve Walton offers these tips:


*When using regular sized bulbs, make sure they have an "Underwriters Laboratory" label, which means they've gone through a rigorous set of safety checks.


*If you're using indoor/outdoor light sets, check for frayed or damaged cords or missing bulbs. Never use decorations with an empty socket. And if you're replacing a bulb, make sure the set is unplugged. Don't screw light bulbs into a live socket.


* When using extension cords outdoors, be sure to use ones rated for outdoor use. Discard any damaged cords.


* Don't overload a circuit. For miniature bulbs, view manufacturer's recommendations. Usually you can use about three strings per socket. For larger bulbs, sets with approximately 50 bulbs are about the max that can be plugged into one socket.


*Don't place any lights near combustible material. Miniature lights are much safer than larger ones because they build up less heat.


*Don't leave lights unattended, even if they're on a timer. Turn them off when you leave home or go to bed.


* Candles are a no-no. They're safe when they're away from combustible materials, but if they burn down near combustible materials– such as curtains or tablecloths– they will ignite. While this seems obvious, Walton says it's the most common holiday fire hazard.


*Keep your tree watered. Natural Christmas trees become combustible if they dry out. To discourage drying out by Christmas, don't put your tree up too early. A tree put up in mid-December will look better on Christmas morning than one put up the day after Thanksgiving. Artificial trees should be labeled "flame retardant."