Watch Out For Fire Hazardy Knock-Off Christmas Lights

CBS’s The Early Show aired a segment last Friday about counterfeit holiday lights and extension cords, mostly from China and mostly available at dollar stores, that can cause fires. The problem is that the manufacturers use shoddy materials, and sometimes even fake UL stickers, to give the impression that they’re following safety guidelines. You find out they’re not when your tree goes up in flames.



It’s usually easy enough to avoid such products. First, don’t buy your extension cords and lights at dollar stores. You should also look for holographic Underwriters Laboratories stickers on the product, and avoid products that aren’t clearly sold under a brand, or that have poorly translated text on the packaging. A good rule of thumb: if electricity is going to flow through it, try not to buy the cheapest, lowest-quality product you can find.

It’s also a good idea to own a fire extinguisher if you don’t already. They’re pretty affordable and available at hardware and home improvement stores.

“Holiday Home Hazard” [CBS]

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  1. Chinchillazilla says:

    The best way to avoid this is to make your own lights.

    Or just do what I do, and laze about until it’s too late to do lights at all.

    • tbax929 says:

      Hey, that was my strategy this year, too!

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      We tried that.
      My MIL wigged out and promptly decorated our house.

      • West Coast Secessionist says:

        I know you mean Mother-In-Law, but that’s what the Volkswagen documentation calls their “check engine” light — the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL). Wow, I spend way too much time stressing about my car.

  2. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    On the flipside of the same coin, a lot of high-priced products (of presumably higher quality) are made very cheaply. Is a $100 coffeemaker or toaster really any less likely to burn your house down than the $10 model?

    • Orv says:

      Having just read “Poorly Made In China,” I think the answer is a definite “maybe.” Higher-priced brands have a reputation to maintain, but their Chinese suppliers often change stuff to cut costs without telling them.

  3. tedyc03 says:

    I love that the advertisement is from Best Buy. Thanks, Consumerist.

  4. Snarkysnake says:

    One alternative to shopping the iffy dollar stores – Buy REAL UL tested lights for half (or more) off starting this Saturday at leading stores everywhere.

    This should be a no-brainer…

    • Outrun1986 says:

      Except for the fact that in most areas there is a major shortage of Xmas lights which is probably why this story is being aired, since the leading retailers are out of stock people are turning to any store they can find lights at (which means dollar stores and other dodgy stores) and hanging potentially hazardous lights.

  5. Outrun1986 says:

    The dollar stores we have here are mostly just the Dollar Tree chain, which yes does have cheap crap, but since its a chain I have to assume the products are safe. I still don’t buy certain things there but I can’t imagine the products there being any worse than those at Walmart or Target.

    You have to watch out at the dollar stores that have non Dollar Tree names though, those are the dodgy ones that sell lots of dodgy products.

    • kaceetheconsumer says:

      Just because it’s a chain doesn’t make it safe. Lots of big-chain stores get recalls from time to time.

      I’ve seen a ton of recalls for Dollar General’s chain on the CPSC mailing list over the years.

  6. Thora says:

    God this is terrifying. I wonder how many innocent people have died or lost their homes due to cheap chinese crap. Why we even continue to do business with the chinese is completely beyond me. Everything they sell us is deadly in one way or another.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Last week I had some sweet and sour pork at a Chinese restaurant and I’m doing fine. Not everything they make is deadly.

      I like how the vid used stock footage of a burning tree to show us how deadly cheap lights are. What other things could they use that tree to scare us out of?

  7. flugennock says:

    Uhhh, between this, and the rotten-egg-smelling contaminated drywall, and the poison-painted toys and the tainted pet food… can someone explain to me again why we’re still importing Chinese Junk?

    Oh, sorry, “competitive”. Hah, silly me.

  8. BoredOOMM says:

    Ahhhh- shop at ACE not at Walmart?

  9. Trai_Dep says:

    Lousy for fir trees, but MOST excellent for lighting up the neighborhood witch!
    If colonial Salem had these pyro-inducing babies, their problems would have been over in… In… Well, in about 200 years, once AC current was available. But BOY would it have been worth the wait!

  10. Julia789 says:

    For a housewarming gift, I always give a fire extinguisher (along with another gift such as baked treats or a nice potted plant). I do this because not many people purchase them on their own. “A gift I hope you never have to use” I put in the card. What is nice, is a couple of friends have said they came in handy over the years.

  11. Rachacha says:

    I used to work at a test lab like UL, and we were approached by a manufacturer who wanted his Christmas Lights certified, We did the testing and evaluation and found that they did not comply, and he went on his merry way. We later found out that he had shopped around to every test lab in the country who was accredited to test Christmas lights…every test lab failed them. About 1 week later US Customs and Boarder Patrol and the CPSC confiscated 2 million boxes of Christmas lights with fake certification marks on them (including the holographic label)

    More tips to identify potentially unsafe products:
    1) Look for spelling and grammar errors on the packaging or instruction sheet.
    2) Look at the certification label. There are 15 labs that can certify products for safety in the US http://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/nrtlmrk.html look at the certification mark, and a listing number that usually is adjacent to the certification mark. Go to the lab’s website, look on their certification directory and enter the listing number to make sure it matches up with the product you have (Your Christmas lights should not come back as a toaster on the certification directory). UL for example uses a listing (or file) number E followed by a series of numbers http://database.ul.com/cgi-bin/XYV/template/LISEXT/1FRAME/index.html

    • dg says:

      Good tips on following up on the certification claim – but honestly you can’t expect the average consumer to handle this. The buyers at the STORE selling the items should have the responsibility to ensure that what they’re selling as ‘certified’ actually is certified.

      The first time a chain gets fined $10 Million, plus disgorgement of all profits for pulling this scam, will be the last time any of them do it.

      Put the onus where it belongs: On the seller.

  12. dg says:

    Ummm, poorly translated text on the packaging? If that were an actual indicator of a counterfeit product, I’d end up buying nothing!

    “Assembler right way: Firstly, insert slot A into ending of bar B, careful to tightly turn…” [Circa 1998 product from Home Depot]

    Holographic stickers don’t mean jack either. Those are made in CHINA and easily stolen from the plant, or otherwise acquired.

    The best solution? Don’t buy any of that junk. Decorate a fake tree with some non-electric ornaments. Better yet – don’t kill a tree or waste any resources on producing a fake one – decorate some living tree in front of the house with non-electric ornaments…

  13. AllanG54 says:

    I like the part about looking for spelling and grammar errors on the packaging. Hell, half the people who post on here can’t spell or write correctly. I guess they’re all Chinese.

  14. Dutchess says:

    All those looked like independent dollar or discount stores. I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked back into those stores 2 days later and see those products back on shelves.