Christmas lights warning

A Dunedin couple and their newborn baby fled a house fire caused by faulty Christmas tree lights yesterday morning.

The fire has prompted a Fire Service warning about the danger of leaving Christmas lights on in unattended rooms.

''When you get the feeling to not leave your lights on, don't leave your lights on ... listen to your intuition,'' new mum Carol, who did not want her surname published, said at the Corstorphine property yesterday.

The night before, she decorated the artificial tree with the lights in the lounge of the Traquair St home.

''I got up at 5.30am to feed the baby and I thought I would have a look at the nice Christmas tree.

''I saw the lights were still on and thought I should probably turn the lights off because the daylight was coming in, but it looked so pretty so I went back to bed.''

Just after 7am, the sleeping couple heard their dog barking outside their bedroom window, just before a smoke alarm sounded. The couple saw smoke as they opened their bedroom door. Carol's husband ran to get their 8-week-old son William, who was asleep in his bedroom next to the living room.

With his wife and baby safely outside, the man tried to fight the fire but there ''was too much black smoke''. The home, which was insured, received significant damage to the lounge, hallway and roof. New electronic equipment and the baby's cot and blankets were destroyed.

The couple had owned the property for three years. Fortunately for the couple, wrapped Christmas presents had not been put under the tree and would be opened at Christmas when relatives visited from Australia and the North Island.

The couple said their baby's first Christmas was a memorable one. He started crying only when he was rushed outside into the cold following the blaze.

East Otago fire risk management officer Michael Harrison said while the investigation was not over, ''it appears an electrical malfunction in the Christmas tree lights has caused the fire''.

''The Fire Service recommends that when you do have Christmas tree lights, only have the lights on when people are in the room or in the house and turn them off at night.''

He had encountered only two other similar incidents during his firefighting career over the past decade, which included stints in Auckland and the lower North Island.

''It is pretty rare. People should give their lights a good visual inspection and any sign of broken wires or overheating, such as flickering lights, then it is time to throw them out and replace them.''

Mr Harrison said those with real Christmas trees should keep them well watered to ''slow down the drying-out process'', and should not have candles or tea lights near the tree.

People should also remove their Christmas trees after the festive season, as they were a fire hazard, he said.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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