A cheery, magical, pleasingly decorated Christmas tree can burst into flames faster than almost anything else in the home, turning a time of joy into a time of tragedy.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), firs, pines and spruces ignite rapidly and lead to dangerous and destructive fires. From 2016 to 2018, the latest years for which figures are available, fires involving Christmas trees – and candles – resulted in 30 deaths and 180 injuries. Besides the human element, those fires resulted in $56 million in damages to homes and property.
“Tree lights should be examined for frayed wires and damaged plugs,” states a CNN article titled “Here are some tips to ensure you don’t set your Christmas tree on fire.” “While the more the merrier, it’s important not to overload electrical outlets or run wires under carpets or rugs. When positioning the tree, try to put it close to an electrical outlet to minimize the use of extension cords.”
Regarding candles, the article warns consumers to “keep them somewhere else” and that “lighted candles should never be placed on trees.”
Additional tips include:
- Situate the tree far enough away (at least three feet is recommended) from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators and stoves.
- Do not smoke near the tree.
- Secure the tree in a sturdy stand so it does not tip over.
- Properly water the tree to keep it from drying out and becoming more of a fire hazard.
The CPSC took to Twitter to communicate the realities of Christmas trees and fires, sparking an onslaught of comments in response to its provocative post, which featured a graphic of a blazing skeleton standing in a cozy living room.
“In a matter of seconds, a whole room can be consumed by a flaming Christmas tree,” the CSPC’s social-media specialist, Joe Galbo, said in another CNN article titled “Water your Christmas tree or else, warns US safety group in an alarming alert.” “So, while the skeleton was a very dramatic way to convey it, it was certainly appropriate given how dangerous a dry Christmas tree can be.”
The CSPC’s communications specialist, Nychelle Fleming, added, “CPSC is always looking for new and innovative ways to reach consumers with our messaging, especially as families begin to gather and celebrate the holidays.”
The fact remains that even if a Christmas tree is watered properly, it naturally will dry out and eventually will die. It is important to discard it immediately following the holiday. Many municipalities have recycling programs for expired Christmas trees.
Here is an informative explanation in a blog by the National Fire Protection Association as to why Christmas trees pose such a threat.
“Combustible vegetation can include a variety of items, such as hay bales, limbs, leaves, and Christmas trees. These items, by their nature, are initially fire retardant. The problem arises when they have been cut and packaged, often early in the season, without access to water for extended periods of time. The fire danger of Christmas trees and similar vegetation increases when the tree is not freshly cut and immediately placed in water when purchased. And, the longer they are on display, the increase in potential for the tree to go unwatered and unmaintained.”
The blog continues, “The best preventive measures for avoiding a dried out tree include using a freshly harvested tree, cutting the butt or bottom end immediately before placing it in water, and checking the water level frequently to ensure that the tree water container is filled. To check the tree itself for dryness, it is best to check a branch near the trunk and allow it to slide between the thumb and forefinger. When needles shed easily, the tree should be removed or replaced, since trees dry from the inside out.”
Here are a couple more tips:
- Search for decorations labeled as flame-resistant, flame-retardant or noncombustible.
- When leaving the house or going to bed, unplug all lights.
Consumers also might consider artificial Christmas trees to stave off a potential disaster. The materials and technology have improved dramatically through the years, and the artificial Christmas trees that can be purchased today already are flocked and / or lighted. There also are a variety of shapes and sizes to conform to room restrictions.
“Regardless of their aesthetic, the best part of artificial Christmas trees is that most come pre-lit, are incredibly easy to assemble and – oh, right – they don’t need watering!” CNN reports in a story listing the top 23 products on the market. The roundup can be found here.