Safety Doesn’t Have to Get Spooky at Halloween

It only takes a few smart decisions, especially with decorations, candles and costumes, and awareness not to be haunted by electrical and fire dangers.

October 20, 2014 | By Paul Netter


Scary-looking jack-o’-lanterns, check. Spooky decorations, check. Eye-catching costumes, big check.

And a safe approach to using them all this Halloween season?

That deserves the biggest check of all.

Yes, amid all the lighting, creative costumes and blow-up vampires, skeletons and witches, electrical and fire dangers are potentially the spookiest thing about Halloween for celebrants everywhere. And for good reason since Halloween decorations cause more than 1,000 home fires annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“Jack-o’-lanterns and electric displays with flashing lights and spooky sounds are all very popular during Halloween,” said Don Neal, Southern California Edison’s (SCE) director of Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety. “The bad news is that they can cause fires, electrical shocks and burns when used improperly. The good news, though, is that smart decisions can easily prevent it all.”

Video Credit: Joseph Foulk and Nicholas Roy

Neal recommends inspecting and discarding any decorative lighting and components with cracked, frayed or bared wiring, particularly if they have been in storage. When buying decorations, those with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL) labels should be used.

Lights and cords should never be installed near power lines or utility poles. All decorations marked for outdoor use should be plugged into Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter-protected outlets.

Neal also cautions against overusing extension cords.

“People should be careful about not overloading extensions cords that are meant only for temporary use anyway,” he said, noting that no more than three strands of lights should be used per extension cord. “[People] should also not only keep those cords out of doorways and walkways to eliminate a tripping hazard, but they should make sure they’re not placed at an angle or position that pinches them, like in windows.”

Halloween is the fourth-highest day for reported candle fires, according to the fire protection association, so battery-operated candles or even glow sticks should be used instead to light jack-o’-lanterns or as decorations.

“[The battery-operated candles] are getting more popular and of course they’re safer,” said Rick Flores, an inspector with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “They’re simply much less dangerous than a burning candle.”

If burning candles are ever used, they should never be left unattended, they should be kept out of reach of children and pets and they should be at least 12 inches from anything that can burn, especially since the fire association says 56 percent of home candle fires result from combustible material being too close to the candle.

Those candles can also ignite flammable decorations and costumes. With a record number of people expected to buy costumes, the federal Flammable Fabrics Act requires those sold at retail to be flame-resistant. Homemade costumes should be made with fabrics that are essentially flame resistant, like nylon and polyester.

“Much of Halloween is basically common sense,” said Flores. “You want to take caution and err on the side of being safe. Many people want to decorate and make the house look nice, but let’s do it in a safe way.”

Topics: Safety