Ways to Avoid Holiday Hazards

The holidays are usually a time for cheer, but they can also pose a number of hazards – especially with Christmas Lights and fireplaces. Newschannel 6 is always looking out for you. We went to the experts to find out what you can do to keep your family safe this time of year.

On Pennsylvania Road in Wichita Falls, Christmas Lights are serious stuff. Thomas Johnson and his granddaughter Peyton Palmer are busy putting up lights in the front yard. The multi-colored flashing display is complete with Santa figurines and flashing signs indicating the direction to the North Pole. Johnson uses a lawn chair to hang some finishing touches. "I'm not going near as heavy as I did last year," he explained.

Palmer, a 5th grader at Sam Houston looks on with curiosity, as she holds the chair and hands her grandpa a hammer. "Its actually like really weird," she said.  The curiosity is embraced by Johnson and his neighbor Grafton Lalone, who are engaged in a friendly light rivalry. "We used to compete every year… My house used to look as bad as my neighbors," joked Johnson.

Lalone is the clear winner this year. His display still isn't done, but already causes glare bright enough neighbors don't need a porch light. "He put up some, I put up some, then finally he admitted he just couldn't out do this old man over here," said Lalone.

Despite the friendly dispute, both men take safety seriously. "I have them on three different circuits so that I don't overload any of them," said Johnson. He has his strings of lights carefully divided between several 15 amp breakers. Not to be outdone, Lalone takes it a step further – he's installed permanent outdoor receptacles throughout his yard. "I go in with my ground fault hookups, just for safety. That way if anything shorts out it automatically pops it real quick," he said. His elaborate setup is even on timers.

While the sun sets on Pennsylvania Road, neighbors stand around and stare at the display with wonder. The flashing lights are a wintertime water cooler of sorts. While those flashing lights bring joy, the men hope to avoid the flashing red lights of emergency crews. Just days before Christmas 2010, a home in western Clay County burned in minutes. The homeowner said he thought lights were to blame.

Fire Officials said there are things to consider when dealing with lights. "If you have too many lights plugged in it can cause a short in the wires some place, you forget to unplug them when you leave to go to work in the morning, and in turn you will end up with a fire," said Wichita Falls Firefighter Kyle Lange.

Lange said its best to use timers on lights. He also advised checking your smoke detectors, and not using your fireplace until it has been checked by a chimney sweep. Jeff Browning, owner of Browning Electric, says you should take more care than just not overloading circuits. He said to check your lights before they go up. "Check the cords for cracks, making sure there is not any damage to your lighting. Go through, check your bulbs make sure there are not broken before you start plugging them in," said the electrician.

Its all so that your holidays can be merry – and for those around the shining light showdown on Penn Rd. – bright. "The kids will point; Look at that mommy! Look at that daddy!" said Lalone. "I think they're pretty cool," admitted Palmer. That pre-teen admiration is all either men are going for in the rivalry. They both love seeing the kids' faces light up, much like the inflatable snowmen and animatronic deer  - grazing and glowing on Pennsylvania Road. "I love Christmas! Its my favorite holiday," said Johnson.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6