While house fires starting with Christmas trees are rare, they do occur every season. You can reduce your risk at home by following a few simple guidelines when buying, caring for, and decorating the tree.
One of the best ways to reduce the risk of fire is to purchase the freshest Christmas tree possible. Cutting your own field grown tree is the best way to assure the tree is fresh and full of water. If you’re getting a pre-cut tree, purchase early and buy local. Trees begin to dry as soon as they are cut, and those that are coming from a long distance away may have been cut down many weeks before they reach the vendor. To check the freshness and condition of a prospective tree, look at the needles. The needles on a fresh tree will be bright green and firmly attached to the branches when you pull on them. If giving the tree a firm bump on the ground leaves behind a ring of green needles, it is not fresh.
Once you’ve gotten the tree home make a fresh cut at the base, removing at least two inches of trunk to improve water uptake. Fresh Christmas trees are thirsty and will need a lot of water, so keep the tree stand full of water and remember to check and refill regularly.
Be thoughtful as to where you place the tree. Trees kept at cooler temperatures will last much longer than those placed in warm rooms or set near heat sources such as radiators or vents. Never put your tree near any open flame, be it a fireplace, woodstove, or candles.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 40% of Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical failures or malfunctions. Before decorating the tree inspect your lights and extension cords and throw away any that are damaged. Strings of lights that have loose bulbs or frayed/broken wires should not be used. Also, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for stringing lights together. Stringing too many in a row is an all too easy way to cause an electrical malfunction and increase fire risk. It is also a good idea to unplug the tree at night before you go to bed or when you’re leaving the house.
Lastly, don’t hold onto your tree for too long. Get rid of the tree soon after Christmas, especially if it has started dropping needles. Don’t know what to do with the tree? Try placing it in the yard away from the house. An old Christmas tree can provide great shelter for backyard wildlife. The birds and the squirrels will enjoy using it for the rest of the winter season.
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