In recent years, Halloween decorations have been the first items ignited in an estimated average of 1,240 reported home structure fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These fires caused an estimated average of seven civilian deaths, 53 civilian injuries and $20 million in direct property damage per year.
Halloween ranks among the top five days of the year for candle-related fires. To prevent candle fires, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) encourages residents to never leave a burning candle unattended. Increasingly available at most retail stores and online, LED and battery-operated flameless candles and other LED or solar lighting are safe alternatives to traditional candles.
"Too often Halloween make-believe has resulted in real life injury," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Fortunately, prevention is simple. Choose flameless candles, flame-retardant materials, and well-fitting costumes to reduce the risk of injury this Halloween."
Follow these tips from the CPSC and NFPA to make your decorated yard and home safe this Halloween.
Lighted Candles and Jack o' LanternsKeep candles and jack o' lanterns away from landings and doorsteps, where costumes could brush against the flame. Make sure candles are away from curtains, decorations and other items that could ignite. Do not leave burning candles unattended.
For extra safety, use a "flameless," LED or battery-operated candle. If you use a real candle, practice extreme caution. Make sure children are watched at all times when candles are lit. When lighting candles inside Jack-o-lanterns, use long fireplace-style matches or a utility lighter. Be sure to place lit pumpkins well away from anything that can burn and far enough out of the way of trick-or-treaters, doorsteps, walkways and yards.
Dried Foliage and CornstalksDried flowers and foliage, cornstalks, hay stacks and crepe paper are highly flammable. Keep these and other decorations away from all open flames and heat sources, including light bulbs and heaters.
Halloween Pranks and Decoration TheftHalloween began as a night of pranks, and the tradition has continued in some regions. Toilet-papering people's properties and filling mailboxes with shaving cream are old standards that may seem benign, but are a mess for the "recipient." Believe it or not, these acts of holiday mischief are considered vandalism. Discuss this with your child or teenager before they go out with their friends on Halloween.
As home haunts and outdoor fall and Halloween decorations become more popular, reported incidents of theft have also risen. Many home haunters have worked on their props and scenes all year for display in October. Others buy new props and decorations each year, amassing an impressive Halloween yard display.
Seasoned decorators have found ways to secure props and decorations in their yards and on their porches. Others bring them inside at night, or use alarm systems. The point is to have fun with decorating, but be aware and know your neighborhood and community's activity.
Clear Yard and Pathway for Trick-or-TreatersNot to take away all the fun of decorating for Halloween, but you need to remember that trick or treaters and party-goers will be visiting your home haunt or decorated house at night, when it's dark. Avoid accidents and mishaps by removing obstacles from lawns, steps and porches. This includes lawn ornaments, garden hoses, container gardens and yard toys. Wet leaves should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
Use Safe Light StrandsUse only decorative light strands that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets.
When purchasing electrical decorations, make sure to shop at a reputable retailer and look for the UL Mark. Be sure to check the rating on your extension cords and do not plug in more than the recommended wattage. Use special heavy duty extension cords for high wattage decorations such as fog machines and electrically powered inflatable decorations.
Inspect all of your electric lights and decorations for damage or wear. Cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires and loose connections may pose a fire or shock hazard. Replace damaged light strings with energy-efficient LED lights. Look for a red UL Mark to indicate that lights are certified for both indoor and outdoor use. A green UL mark indicates certification for indoor use only.
Don't Overload Electrical CircuitsWhat happens when you overload an extension cord or electrical circuit? Your circuit breaker will shut off or, if the wire and breaker start to heat up, they could start an electrical fire.
Keep Exits ClearIf you transform your property into a haunted house or home haunt, remember to keep exits clear of decorations and power cords, so nothing blocks escape routes. This would include doors, gates and pathways.
Pathway LightingUse solar LED pathway markers, flameless LED votives or even small flashlights as alternatives to candles when decorating walkways and yards. LED lighting is much safer for trick-or-treaters, whose costumes may brush against the candles.
Stay With GroupsChildren should never take shortcuts through backyards or alleys. Instruct children not to stray from their group.
Keep the Porch Lights OnWelcome trick-or-treaters with your porch lights and any exterior lights illuminated. Dark houses signal nobody's home, trick-or-treaters are trespassers and that your house is spooky or inhabited by grouches or grinches.
Don't Enter a Stranger's HomeRemind children to not go inside anyone’s home. Remain on the porch at all times. Do not accept rides from strangers. Better yet, accompany your children when they go out for Halloween.
Who Carves the Pumpkins?Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can, however, draw a face on the pumpkin with markers. A parent or adult can do the carving, but kids can help scoop out the "guts" and collect pumpkin seeds for roasting.
Anne Marie Helmenstine, About.com's chemistry expert, explains how to safely carve a pumpkin.