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Oregon Family Magazine

Christmas Tree Safety

12/03/2014 21:33 ● By Sandy Kauten
During the holidays, tree related fires can turn holiday cheer into holiday fear. Each year, fire departments respond to over 200 Christmas tree related home fires. On average, one of every 40 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home fires. Additionally, trees can fall over onto children and cause injury. There are many things that you, as a family, can do to mitigate your risk. Follow these steps to ensure safety during this holiday season.

Pick the Right Tree

Choosing the right tree can help you avoid many of the most common problems that contribute to Christmas tree fires.

If you have an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled by the manufacturer as fire retardant. These trees are made of flame resistant materials that will be less likely to start or contribute to a fire.

If you prefer to purchase a fresh tree, choose one with fresh, green needles that are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers do not break. Do not buy a dry or dying Christmas tree. No matter how appealing the idea of a “Charlie Brown” tree may be, if the tree is brown or dropping a lot of needles, it is not safe to keep in your home. The trunk butt of a fresh tree will be sticky with resin, and, when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.

Place the Tree Carefully

Once you have selected your tree and bring it home, find the right place for it to sit.

Place your tree securely in a tree stand that is designed to reduce tipping. Make sure your tree stands upright securely. If it shakes at all, fasten the base of the tree more firmly into the stand so that it does not fall over. Before placing a fresh tree in the stand, cut 1-2" from the base of the trunk and add an ample supply of water. Be sure to add water daily to fresh trees.

The tree should be placed at least three feet away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights and should not block any exits. Trees themselves do not often cause fires. Surrounding debris such as newspapers and magazines, boxes or bags and curtains and drapes are much more likely to catch fire.

Decorate the Tree Responsibly

Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both. Make certain you are using the right lights for your application.

Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections and do not connect more than three strands of mini string lights to one extension cord. Be sure to review manufacturer’s instructions for the maximum number of LED strands to connect. Always turn off

Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

Dispose of Your Tree Promptly

After Christmas, a well-watered tree may survive 6 to 8 weeks, after which it will rapidly dry out. Be sure to dispose of your fresh tree as soon as needles begin to drop. Artificial trees should be inspected for any needed repairs before they are stored away for the year. 

Christmas trees are a wonderful addition to the holiday season and by caring for them properly you can avoid the dangers that they may pose. 

Beth N. Davis writes from Silver Spring, MD where she and her husband are raising their four children.