Until, that is, someone smelled the smoke. At first, we thought, the oven had been left on. Or maybe a neighbor had lit a fire? But then the scent started to take on a sour tinge. Like burning plastic? Or maybe—eek—lighter fluid? And then someone saw the smoke. It was wafting in toward the table. We weren't smelling something from outside. It all was coming from inside the house.
The Christmas of 1994, in other words, was the Christmas the Garber family became a statistic: Our tree had caught fire. We are still not sure how. But it was probably, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission would say, because we had let our tree go under-watered. Or over-lighted. Or, even more possibly, overdone with reflective ornaments. Perhaps, on the other hand, we had simply situated it too close to a heat source.
Regardless: Do not be like the Garbers! Heed the warnings of the CPSC, for your own safety, or at least that of your home! Each year, the Commission publishes, Cassandra-like, a nearly identical list of recommendations meant to help Americans...
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