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PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll reveals Washingtonians could use a few holiday safety tips

It's true: Men do leave the lights on

December 7, 2005

SEATTLE – A survey by Washington insurer PEMCO 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 Insurance Northwest 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:

  1. 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!
  2. Thoroughly inspect all holiday lights each year before putting them up. Discard any that have cracked or frayed wiring or that work intermittently.
  3. 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.
  4. Use only outdoor-rated lights and extension cords.
  5. Keep electrical connections dry and away from standing water.
  6. 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.
  7. Never use lighted candles on trees or in decorations.
  8. Burn candles only in non-combustible holders, like metal or glass.

Complete results of the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll can be found at poll.pemco.com.

About the poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned the independent, statewide survey that asked Washington homeowners several questions about home maintenance and other issues.

Informa Research Services Inc. of Seattle conducted the poll. The sample size, 600 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study was conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Washington state residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the state and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.

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