TFD: Check your Christmas lights to avoid house fires

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A string of lights is a great way to spread Christmas cheer - but it also could spark disaster. How safe are your Christmas lights really?

They use electricity and can generate extra heat and that can lead to fires.

Even the smallest decorations can spark big problems when misused.

It's not just your exterior to be worried about.

"I think a lot of times the interior is more problematic because people think they have more control over it so they do a lot more decorating," said Topeka Fire Marshal Mike Martin.

"One of the things we see probably more than anything is just the decorations catching on fire."

Martin says before the first strand is strung - check for wear.

"We need to get those lights out and not just hang them up, we need to take some time to look at and make sure that the wires aren't frayed, make sure that they're operating correctly," he said.

Faulty wires set fires, but even perfect ones generate heat. Pay close attention to voltage ratings and check labels to see how many strands can be connected together.

"Once you get your decorations up and they're all bright and shiny and pretty go around to those electrical outlet to put the back your hand on the electrical outfit. Make sure that there's no heat being built up ... feel the extension cords, feel the light cords, make sure that there's not heat building up," Martin said.

"Another thing that is common is people will take the excess [cordage] and they'll wrap it up nice and tight and ball it up and maybe stick it under a rug or something. So anytime you coil that electric [cable] it starts to create heat and then if you put something on top of it, then that can really amplify the heat and can sometimes start a fire ... We really just have to be very careful when we start our holiday decorating."

Martin shared two more big tips - the first being avoid decorative candles. He recommends fake ones instead.

The second tip deals with Christmas trees - fake trees tend to be safer - because they don't dry out.

If you do choose a live tree - give the base plenty of water. Martin says trees can go through up to one gallon a day.