SIKESTON -- As local residents get into the holiday spirit, putting up Christmas lights, trees and other seasonal decorations, local professionals remind them to keep the season a safe one, too.
Harrison Walter Waltrip definitely has the experience of putting up interior and exterior Christmas lights. For the past 15 years, the Sikeston resident has decorated his home for one of his favorite seasons, he said.
One of the most important tasks in installing Christmas lights is checking to make sure the lights work and there isn't any faulty wiring, Waltrip said.
"I start out with so many lights and put them up and keep going," Waltrip said about his method. "If I need more, I just go to the store and then keep adding to it."
Waltrip admitted he doesn't know exactly how many lights he uses each year -- a bunch, he said, adding that it's probably in the thousands.
"We outline the house and cover the windows and doors. Just about anything that we can put a light on, we do," Waltrip said.
When the season's over, wrap the lights around a board when they're taken down so next year they can be checked without unraveling them first, Waltrip said.
Although Waltrip is among the experienced, safety should always be considered, he agreed, especially during the holidays.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year hospital emergency rooms treat about 8,700 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. In addition, Christmas trees are involved in about 400 fires annually, resulting in 20 deaths, 70 injuries and an average of more than $15 million in property loss and damage.
CPSC recommends using only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials as well as making an emergency plan to use if a fire breaks out anywhere in the home and practicing that plan.
Capt. Jim Hailey of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety Fire Division has seen a lot of holiday decor accidents over the years and recommended several tips for holiday trimming.
"If you use real trees, keep them watered and wait as close to Christmas as possible before you put them up. Pine oil is very flammable," Hailey said.
Make sure all of the lighting is in good shape and don't use lights that have shorts in them, Hailey said. If they blink when moved around, they need to be thrown out, he said. Hailey also advised to use the proper size of extension cords and read the recommendations on the boxes of the lights as to how many strands can be put together. Any outdoor lighting needs to be rated as outdoors and don't run lights under rugs or furniture. Keep it clear of obstacles, Hailey warned.
According to Pam Hughes, owner of Lawn Designs, ensuring lighting safety is a major area of concern for her employees since the landscaping business also designs and installs Christmas lighting.
Hughes recommends using no more than three sets of mini lights and icicle lights back to back. If a person does more than that, the outlet gets overloaded, she said. Split strands up as much as possible on different outlets, she suggested.
And if the design for exterior lights requires climbing a roof, Hughes added the safest thing to do is to call a professional.
Capt. Chris Henry of the City of New Madrid Police Department said to be sure not to overload the household electric sockets, adding that 110-volt plug ins should only have one in each plug. He suggested putting all cords out of the reach of children and household pets.
Most of the calls associated with holiday accidents the Sikeston DPS receives will be either the result of an overloaded circuit or careless use of an extension cord or set of lights, Hailey said.
Hailey said very few people in Sikeston are injured each year from putting up decorations. However, normally, the city will see four to six house fires a year that involves a Christmas tree or ornaments.
Usually, but not always, in past couple of years, house fires have started from faulty wiring and when a Christmas tree gets involved, it becomes much worse, Hailey explained. A lot of people use space heaters and when they're unwrapping the gifts, it catches the paper on fire, he added.
"It's pretty sad to see someone's Christmas burnt to a crisp," Hailey noted. "A lot of people struggle just to have a Christmas. It's a lot of shame to lose it over something that could've been prevented right from the start."