PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll Says Wash. Residents Need Some Holiday Safety Tips

December 7, 2005

A survey by Washington insurer PEMCO reportedly reveals that while holiday decorations and lights might raise holiday spirits, some Washington homeowners use them unsafely, putting themselves and their families at risk.

According to Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesman, most of the fire-related accidents around the holidays are easily avoidable.

“We know that almost one-fourth of homeowners fail to turn off holiday lights before they leave their home,” said Osterberg. “While that may seem harmless enough, all it takes is a frayed wire and a dry Christmas tree to start a house fire.”

The survey revealed nine out of 10 homeowners will decorate with interior lights this holiday season. Though they may be pretty to look at, decorative lights can pose a dangerous threat if not used properly.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires occurring during the holiday season injure 2,600 individuals and cause over $930 million in damages annually. On December 24, 25 and 26, fire deaths, injuries, and dollar loss increase by an average of 50 percent, 61 percent, and 43 percent respectively.

“Our poll also confirms what many wives have said for a long time — men are more prone to leave the lights on when no one’s home,” noted Osterberg. “We found 74 percent of the women asked said they always turn off holiday lights, but only 66 percent of men say they always remember to pull the plug.”

The PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll revealed that overall, 20 percent of homeowners sometimes or always leave their indoor holiday lights on when they leave home. PEMCO encourages people to never leave holiday lights unattended. Parched Christmas trees and wrapping paper can ignite around hot lights. There’s also a chance that undetected cracked or frayed electrical cords can start a fire.

“The most-common problem PEMCO sees is people who reuse old tree lights year after year, and people who string too many lights together,” said Osterberg. “When lights work intermittently or start shorting out, throw them away. Why take the risk? They’re cheap to replace.”

The poll also revealed that 90 percent of Washington homeowners say they burn candles. Of those people, 12 percent don’t always use non-combustible holders, which increases the risk of a holiday fire due to wrapping paper and combustible decorations typically found in homes.

Interestingly, 92 percent of homeowners without children always burn candles in non-combustible holders compared to 83 percent of those with children under 18 years old, the poll showed.

To help homeowners reduce the risk of a fire or injury, PEMCO recommends the following safety tips:

— Unplug Christmas lights when you leave home or go to bed. Use a timer so that lights are on only during the hours you select. This has a dual purpose — it can also help you save on your energy bill!
— Thoroughly inspect all holiday lights each year before putting them up.
— Discard any that have cracked or frayed wiring or that work intermittently.
— Don’t overload electrical outlets, especially in older homes. PEMCO sees too many claims caused by overloaded electrical cords and running too many strings together. Be sure to heed warning labels that tell you how much electrical current is appropriate.
— Use only outdoor-rated lights and extension cords.
— Keep electrical connections dry and away from standing water.
— Keep live Christmas trees well-watered so that they won’t dry out and become a fire hazard. Make sure artificial trees are flame retardant.
— Never use lighted candles on trees or in decorations.
— Burn candles only in non-combustible holders, like metal or glass.

Complete results of the PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll can be found at

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