Fires and frauds: What to watch out for this pandemic holiday

As if there weren’t other things to worry about.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Each year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission publishes a list of unsafe toys, along with warnings about cooking and holiday decorations.

This year, because of COVID-19, the safety commission is asking people to be extra careful. Fakes, fires and fraud are all big concerns — enhanced even more by the pandemic.

“It’s true,” said CPSC Spokesperson Nikki Fleming, “Again, we are all at home looking for entertainment for the kids, also educating the kids and getting our own work done.”

The safety commission says with more people spending more time inside this year due to COVID-19, risks could be magnified.

Cooking, they say, remains the No. 1 cause of residential fires. Before the holiday’s people were already preparing more meals at home. It’s a concern for local fire departments.

“The effects of this virus have affected all walks of life,” Clearwater Division Chief Jim Warman said. “But we want to make sure that we don’t exacerbate that with a fire.”

Similar concerns exist for Christmas trees and holiday decorations, which many people put up earlier this year to battle the pandemic blues.

But that means there is more time for trees to dry out and for lights, cords and ornaments to spark or overheat. Especially with people working from home, keeping the decoration lit for more hours than usual.

“The biggest factor with a Christmas tree is having them dry out,” Warman said. “Keeping them at least 3 feet away from a heat source and keeping them hydrated daily. Watering the tree and checking it daily is very important.”

“Yes, CPSC actually sees about 200 decorating-related injuries every single day during the holiday season,” Fleming added.

Another big concern this year is toys. Lots of kids are spending more time inside with them, so make sure they are age-appropriate.

“We know that young children are going to put things in their mouths,” Fleming said. “And we know that is the leading cause of death.”

The CPSC says the good news is that toy recalls have declined to a 12-year low. There have been nine toy recalls so far this year, compared with 172 in the year 2008.

Knowing people are shopping more online during the pandemic, there is also no shortage of counterfeits and fakes out there. So, check the reputability of online retailers.

“You want to start with the seller you know and trust,” Fleming said. “And then looking at items like if the price is too good to be true, then it is possible that the product is a counterfeit product.”

“I know we are all looking for Black Friday deals and that sort of thing, but it really does pay to do your homework before you purchase those things,” Warman added. “For that very reason, because you could get some things that maybe aren’t as high-quality and could create problems.”

Also, with cooler temperatures settling in over the next couple of days, remember to keep space heaters, electric blankets, candles and other heat sources away from anything flammable.

“Again, don’t let your holiday celebration turn into a tragedy that actually lands you in the emergency room,” Fleming said. “Take these precautions now. Put safety first when making these choices.”


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