A home on Fort Belvoir, Va., is decorated with icicle lights and flashing snowflakes in 2011.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Dec. 5, 2013) -- Now that Thanksgiving Day leftovers have all been put away and the first of December has arrived, community member's thoughts are turning to the Christmas season and many are busy engaging in that classic annual tradition of decorating the house and yard with holiday lights, inflatable snowmen, Santa Claus, animated reindeer and sleighs along with a variety of other twinkling ornaments.

One thing many of these holiday adornments have in common is that they may require electricity, and residents need to keep in mind a number of safety concerns regarding their use, as well as the requirements issued each year by the Fort Belvoir Garrison Command Team and Fire and Emergency Services which govern the proper installation and use of decorations.

"One of the biggest dangers each holiday season is fire," said John Weaver, Fort Belvoir fire marshal, stressing specific precautions community members should take to reduce the risk of mishaps. "Make sure to avoid overloading wall sockets or extension cords. If you put up lights around a window, make sure that the window can still open and close freely."

Weaver also pointed out particular concerns regarding the Christmas tree itself.

"Nationally, Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries, and more than $6 million in property damage," he said. "You can reduce the risk of a tree fire by making sure that the tree is secured with a wire so that it can't tip over and by keeping the tree well away from any heat sources. Be sure to turn the tree lights off whenever you go to bed or leave the house. A six-foot live tree will use one gallon of water every two days, so water it often to prevent it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. And never, under any circumstances, use candles to decorate a tree."

Trees inside the home should also be positioned in a place that does not interfere with occupants' ability to exit the structure in the event of an emergency.

"Most people put their trees at the bottom of the stairs or in the window next to the front door," Weaver said. "However, this is a bad idea, because it could potentially block the main exit from the home in case of a fire."

The Villages at Belvoir publishes the Resident Responsibility Guide which contains valuable information regarding the safe use of Christmas lighting as well as the specific guidelines residents must follow.

According to the guide, outside lighting must be Underwriters Laboratories approved and factory listed for outdoor use. Running electric cords through windows and doors, or across heating ducts or ventilation systems is prohibited, as this causes a fire hazard. All exterior lighting must be GFCI compliant. A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is designed to protect from electrical shock in the event of an overload or short.

Residents are reminded that homes have limited amp circuits and care must be taken to prevent overloading.

The guidelines also prohibit placing decorations higher than the edge of the roof gutter. The use of staples, nails, screws, or other mechanical fasteners to attach decorations or lighting to the homes and associated structures is also prohibited.

Plastic clip-on hooks are available commercially and are used to attach decorative lighting, garlands, etc. Attachment of anything to vinyl siding is prohibited. Additionally, electrical decorations must be unplugged when residents are away from the home.

The guidelines also stress that holiday lighting must be removed no later than Jan. 10. Outside decorative lights are to be turned off no later than midnight, except on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when they are allowed to remain on overnight. Outside lights are not authorized during daylight hours.

Decoration safety tips:

• If a live tree is still on your to-do list, try to select a fresh tree by looking for one that is green. The needles of pines and spruces should bend, not break, and should be difficult to pull off the branches.
• Cut about two inches off the trunk and put the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand.
• Keep the stand filled with water so the tree does not dry out.
• Stand your tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources.
• Make sure the tree does not block foot traffic or doorways.
• Choose electric decorations that are tested and labeled as fire resistant.
• Electric decorations and artificial trees with built-in electrical systems should have the Underwriters Laboratory label. Inspect your previously used decorations carefully, checking for broken wiring, plugs or sockets.
• Use no more than three light sets connected to each other.
• Extension cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping hazards, but do not run cords under rugs or furniture.
• Turn off and unplug all electric decorations at night and when away.
• Never leave candles unattended and never use real candles on your tree.
• Install and maintain a working smoke alarm on every level of your home and in every bedroom.
• Buy and install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home.
• Dispose of your fireplace ashes in a sturdy metal container and allow them to cool for 24 to 48 hours. Do not place the disposal container on any combustible surface (wooden decks, grass, etc.) and keep them at least 30 feet away from any structure.

For more information regarding holiday safety, contact the Fort Belvoir Fire and Emergency Services Office at (703) 806-6911 (Non-Emergency).

In the event of an emergency, call 911 or (703) 781-1800.

Page last updated Fri December 6th, 2013 at 08:14