Few traditions are as unique to the holidays as adorning our homes with brightly lit Christmas trees. Many people choose to display live trees in their homes, and while this timeless exhibit adds to the magic of the season, it may also increase the risk of holiday fires and injuries. A primary concern with a live Christmas tree is fire danger, often brought on by the combination of electrical malfunctions and a drying tree.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), there are several things to do when looking for a fresh tree. If you’re heading to a retail lot, look for one that is well lit but keeps the trees in a shaded area to prevent them from drying out. Ask the seller questions, such as when they received their trees; are they delivered once at the beginning of the season or in several shipments? If there are several varieties of trees, ask the retailer which performs best in your climate, as some species last longer and remain fresher than others in certain environments.
Once you select a potential tree, know how to do a fresh-check. The NCTA suggests that you run a branch through your enclosed hand – the needles should not come off easily. Bend the outer branches – they should be pliable. If they are brittle and snap easily or the needles come off without effort, the tree is too dry and could be a fire hazard. Other warning signs are excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor and wrinkled bark. A good rule of thumb is if you are unsure as to whether a tree is fresh, select another, and if all the trees on the lot don’t look fresh, find another retailer.
When you get your live tree home, make a fresh cut to remove about a half inch disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting it in the stand. Do not cut it at an angle or in a V-shape which makes the tree less sturdy and reduces the amount of water available to the tree. Taking a few minutes to do this will improve your tree’s water intake, and make it harder for your tree to catch fire. As a general rule, tree stands should provide one quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Check the stand daily to ensure the water level doesn’t go below the base of the tree. An additional safeguard is to place the tree away from sources of heat (fireplaces, space heaters, vents).
To reduce your risk of electrical malfunctions and danger when it comes to décor, use low heat lights such as LED’s or miniature bulbs and inspect the light sets (new or old) for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections before use. Be careful where you place electrical cords. Don’t run electrical cords under rugs; walking traffic can weaken the insulation and the wires can overheat, increasing the chances for fire or electrical shock. Purchase lights, electric decorations and extension cords that are UL-listed only. And always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or going to bed.
Electrical malfunctions can also ignite artificial trees and you should take the same precautions as you would with a real tree regarding tree placement and decorations.
By following these safety tips, you can keep your holidays merry and bright with the beauty of a real tree in your home.