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Be Cautious When Setting Up Holiday Decorations

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DURHAM, N.C. — Holiday decorations can give your home just the right festive touch, but disaster can strike if you do not use products the way they are intended.

A pile of dusty photos is all that was left of Laura Harvey's Cumberland County home. She said an overloaded electrical cord caused the fire.

"All I could think about was my kids' Christmas was gone," she said.

Experts say that is just one of many mistakes people make in holiday decorating.

"Everyone thinks they know how to use an extension cord, but again, there are a number of warnings on this you have to read and follow," said Tom Wollan, of

Underwriters Laboratories


Wollan and his colleagues at Underwriters Laboratories in Research Triangle Park test products like extension cords to make sure they are safe. But often, the problems come when people misuse safe products like closing a window on an extension cord. Officials say that could create an electric shock or fire hazard.

Putting an electric candle in the window seems simple enough, but trouble can occur if a bulb with a wattage that is too high gets too close to a curtain. The fabric starts to burn in just five minutes.

Underwriters Laboratories also found smoking and charring can happen after 30 minutes if you plug in rope lights without stretching them out.

"When it's cool outside, people have been known to plug [the lights] in to warm the product up. Another thing people have done is take the product and try to make it look like a wreath," Wollan said.

To make sure the products you buy are safe, look for the UL tag. However, even with a UL tag, the product can cause problems if you do not follow the manufacturers instructions.

Holiday decorations can pose a serious risk. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency rooms treat 12,500 people each year for injuries related to holiday lights. Christmas trees are involved in about 300 fires annually resulting in 10 deaths and an average of more than $10 million in property damage.