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Only You can Prevent Christmas Tree Fires

Published on Thursday, December 18, 2014 | 5:52 pm


One of the last things a family wants this Christmas season is to see its Christmas tree go up in flames in the living room.

Sadly, Christmas tree fires are a real danger for the unwary. Fire departments throughout the USA respond to an average of 210 structure fires caused by Christmas trees every year, said the National Fire Protection Association.

Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington at Dec. 18, 2014 Christmas safety press conference.

Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington noted a burning Christmas tree releases as much destructive energy as one gallon of gasoline.

He said a good way to ensure your Christmas tree isn’t a fire waiting to happen is to ensure it’s fresh when you buy it and that it remains fresh throughout the holidays.

Washington’s tips on Christmas tree safety continue a tradition set by the fire department of reminding Pasadenans that a safe home is a happy home during the holidays.

Washington said “it’s very important to choose a fresh Christmas tree, and keep it watered at all times.”

“First you need to make sure that your tree gets lots of water,” he said. “Afterward you will need to add water almost every day.”

He pointed out tree that are less dry and moister won’t catch fire easily at all.

“Dried-out trees can easily ignite and create fires by spreading rapidly to nearby combustible materials.”

He also reminded homeowners to place their trees in a safe place “away from heat sources such as a fireplace or heat vent”.

Use extreme caution when using candles to decorate a tree. Make sure candles aren’t easily knocked over and never leave the house with candles burning.

As for tree lights, “it’s vital to maintain your holiday lights. You want to inspect the lights before you use them and ensure that they don’t have any frayed wires.”

He asked people to only use decorative lights that are listed and then approved by an approved testing laboratory. Also, people shouldn’t leave the lights on when they’re not home and avoid overloading electrical outlets.

His message stressing the constant need for Christmas tree safety was driven home with a live demonstration by the fire department showing how quickly a dry Christmas tree ignites and how fiercely it burns.

For more information see the Pasadena Fire Department’s complete list of holiday safety tips:

Christmas trees that are not kept moist can present a very serious fire hazard. A dried out Christmas tree can be totally consumed by fire in less than 30 seconds. Most trees sold have been cut out of the state and have been drying out since they were harvested, which could have been as late as mid-November. Take special precautions when buying your Christmas tree. Trees with brown shedding needles should be rejected. If the tree looks green and fresh, take a long needle and bend it between your thumb and forefinger. If it snaps, the tree is too dry. Look for trees with needles that bend. When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is dry.

When you bring a tree home, cut about an inch off the end of the trunk. This will remove the dried end and allow the tree to absorb water. Make checkerboard cuts into the base at different angles to make a greater surface for water absorption.

Always turn off lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave your home. A short circuit in any of this equipment could cause a fire. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. Damaged insulation in lighting on a metallic tree could cause the entire tree to be charged with electricity. To avoid this danger, use colored spotlights above or beside a metal tree, never fastened onto it.

Keep children away from light sets and electrical decorations. All lights present the problem of shock and casualty hazards for curious kids. When you are stringing the lights on your tree, be careful how you place them. Keep all bulbs turned away from gifts and paper ornaments. Lights in windows can cause curtains and drapes to ignite.

Candles are a traditional and beautiful part of the season. But they are still a direct source of fire in your home. Keep candles a safe distance from other things. And remember that a flickering flame is a thing of fascination to little children. Keep candles out of their reach.

  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens.
  • Always use non-flammable holders.
  • Keep candles away from other decorations and wrapping paper.
  • Place candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over.

Dispose of gift wrappings soon after opening presents. A room full of paper lying around on the floor is just one more holiday hazard. Place trash in an approved container. Do not burn wrappings in the fireplace. They may ignite suddenly and cause a flash fire.

Christmas Gifts
One of the best Christmas gifts you can get someone is a smoke detector. A smoke detector is worth so much, possibly a loved one’s life, yet so inexpensive. Over 90 percent of fire deaths occur in residential dwellings between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when occupants are asleep. Smoke detectors alert occupants when a fire is still small and there is still time to escape.

Holiday Plants
Holly and mistletoe can be fatal to a small child and the smaller the child, the smaller the dose that can cause serious medical problems. Poinsettia leaves are not fatal if swallowed, but can cause a skin rash and an upset stomach. Call 9-1-1 if your children ingest any of these holiday plants.

Trimming The Tree
When choosing the finishing touches for decorating your tree, purchase tinsel or artificial icicles of a non-leaded material. Leaded materials may be hazardous if eaten by children or pets.

Avoid any decorations that tend to break easily or have sharp edges. Keep tree trimmings that are small or have removable parts out of the reach of your child. These pieces may be swallowed.

Use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the UL label from Underwriters Laboratories or another reputable testing agency. Check each set of lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections.

Check labels of lights to be used outdoors to see that they are suitable for outdoor use. Never use indoor lights outside. Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, walls or other firm support to protect them from wind damage. Use no more than three sets of lights per single extension. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and do not use more than the recommended number of lights in one circuit.


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