Directly after Thanksgiving is the busiest time for live Christmas tree sales, so make sure you are picking out a safe tree this year. A Christmas tree can be the perfect way to build holiday cheer in your house, but it’s basically a cone-shaped firestarter if not properly cared for.
An estimated 25 million live trees will be sold nationwide this year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas trees are not as likely to be the first item ignited in a residential fire as other common household items, including newspapers and magazines, boxes or bags and curtains and drapes. But fires involving trees are especially dangerous, authorities say.
From 2009 to 2013, 210 home structure fires were started by Christmas trees, resulting in seven deaths, 19 injuries and $17.5 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Overall, Christmas trees are involved in approximately 400 fires annually.
Here are tips on how to buy, set up, decorate, and discard your tree safely.
If you’re buying an artificial tree, it should bear the “Fire Resistant” label.
If you’re buying a natural tree, buy the freshest you can find. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The trunk butt is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
Watch out for trees with a greenish cast to their trunks and branches; many growers spray trees with green paint to make them look more appealing.
Cut at least two inchs off the trunk’s base to expose fresh wood for better water absorption. A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts a day thereafter.
A seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump in four to six hours if water drops below the base of the tree, preventing the tree from absorbing water later when the tree stand is refilled. If a seal does form, another fresh cut will need to be made.
Because heated rooms dry out natural trees rapidly, keep the stand filled with water; check the water level daily.
To maximize freshness and minimize fire risk, keep the tree outdoors for a few days in a bucket filled with water before bringing it indoors to decorate. The tree stand should hold at least one gallon of water.
Never place paper-wrapped or paper-bagged gifts near open flames or electrical connections.
Remove all wrapping papers, boxes, and other trash from tree and fireplace areas immediately after presents are opened.
Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely. Gift wrapping burns very hot, causing large flames, which can ignite creosote deposits in the chimney and cause a fire in the chimney
Set up the tree away from fireplaces, portable heaters, heater vents, and television sets. Place it out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. Use thin wires to secure tall trees to walls or ceiling; the wires will be almost invisible.
Use only lights tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories. Check each set of lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets
Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord (maximum of 200 miniature lights or 150 larger lights). Only one extension cord should be used per outlet.
Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
Turn off all lights before going to bed or leaving the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.
Never use lighted candles on a tree (even an artificial tree) or near other evergreens.
Decorative lighted villages, Nativity scenes, electric trains, and other electrically powered scenery and figures should be monitored like other decorative lights.
Taking down the Christmas tree isn’t nearly as much fun as putting it up. But the longer a tree stays up, the greater a fire hazard it becomes. It’s best to discard trees within one month after purchase.
When Christmas is over or the tree begins to drop needles, dispose of it.
To dispose of your tree take it to a tree recycling center or have it hauled away by a community pick-up service. If you live in the country or town where there is no tree recycling or pick-up program, contact local authorities for a recommended means of disposal.
Never burn Christmas trees (branches or needles) in a fireplace or wood stove. Firs and pines have lots of sap, which can explode. The needles burn like tinder, quickly and fiercely. Flames can flare up out of control and send sparks flying across a room. They can also ignite creosote deposits in the chimney and cause a fire in the chimney.
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