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Exercise care this holiday season

In the Twin Cities, December is dark. The sun sets around 4:30 PM most of the month and if there is thick overcast, by 3:00 PM, streetlights may be coming on in many places. So the bright lights of Christmas and other holiday displays can make things a little less dark and grim.

But as with any use of electrical items around the home, you need to be careful. According to the National Safety Council, there are about 210 structure fires every year that are related to holiday light displays. While you may find that amusing, insurance companies likely do not, as those fires result in 24 deaths, 27 injuries and more than $13 million dollars in damage.

Common sense should be your guide. Never overload circuits. That should become easier if you are using LED lights, which use only a fraction of the power needed by incandescent lights. But always check your wires and cables to ensure that they are in good repair and that they don't have any bare wires that could lead to a short circuit and a fire.

You should also use extreme care when stringing lights outside with a ladder. Ladders and falls are a cause of many very severe injuries, including spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and potentially death. Never have lights plugged into an outlet when you are hanging them with an aluminum ladder, and always have someone holding the ladder, especially if the ground is slippery from snow or ice.

While most fires caused by holiday lights, candles or a Christmas tree should be covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, you may not want to ruin your holidays with such a claim. If a tree does catch fire, the pine resin in a real tree or the plastic of an artificial tree can create a very intense and dangerous fire in a very short time.

When you are decorating the house, it is also a good time to make certain all of your smoke detectors are proper working order with fresh batteries.

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