Easily preventable fires ruin holiday seasons every year because Christmas lights overload old electrical systems that have not been updated, frayed wires ignite flammable decorations or unattended lights short out.
Before stringing the tree or trying to outdo the neighbors by putting thousands of lights on the house, consult a source of holiday safety tips, such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov, or the U.S. Fire Administration, www.usfa.dhs.gov.
The holidays are a time of tradition, but turning on the lights Grandma bought in 1950 is not such a good idea. Wires should be inspected "for bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear," according to the USFA. Choose those approved and labeled by a laboratory such as the independent Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
No more than three strands should be connected. If an extension cord is needed, the sets of lights should be linked before the last one is plugged in.
No cord should ever be warm to the touch. Burned-out bulbs can cause the overheating of other lights and should be replaced immediately with those that have the same wattage. Bulbs with lower wattage or those that twinkle generate less heat over a prolonged period.