Think fire safety first this holiday season

‘Tis the season to water your Christmas tree daily and use caution with candles and electric lights to keep this joyous time of year safe.

“Dried out, live trees are a fire danger. Always choose a fresh tree, keep it watered daily and keep it away from any heat source such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, or heat vents,” said Michigan State Fire Marshal Richard Miller. “If using an artificial tree, make sure it is labeled ‘flame-retardant,’ which indicates the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.”

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems and one in six are caused by a heat source too close to the tree. Statistics show Christmas tree fires are much more likely to cause death than average home fires and the risk of fire is higher with natural trees than artificial ones.

When buying a live tree, Miller said to make sure it’s as fresh as possible. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Needles should be green and hard to pull from the branches. Bounce the tree on the ground; if many needles fall off, it’s probably a dried-out, old tree that can be a fire hazard.

Once the tree is home, make a fresh cut of one to two inches at the base of the trunk to allow it to absorb water. Place the tree in a non-tip style holder with wide feet. Use only holiday lights that have been approved by a testing agency such as the Underwriters Laboratories and have a UL-tested label on them. LED lights are cooler and use less electricity than conventional lights.

“December is also the peak time of year for home candle fires,” said Miller. “More than half (56%), of such fires occur when candles are too close to anything that can catch on fire. Never use lighted candles on the tree. Keep candles up high enough away from children and pets and never leave home or go to bed with lights on or candles lit. Use battery-operated flameless candles instead.”

Additional holiday fire safety tips:

  • Don’t use any strings of lights that are frayed or broken; throw out damaged sets.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Place the tree as close to an electrical outlet as possible so that cords are not running long distances.  Do not cover up cords with rugs to hide them – this increases the fire hazard.
  • Remove your tree soon after the holidays.  Recycle it using your community’s pickup day if available. Don’t leave it in the house or garage.  Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • “Be sure your smoke alarms are in working order, have a fire extinguisher readily available and know how to use it,” Miller said.  “Have a prepared and practiced home escape plan that will help insure your survival in a home fire.”

The Grandville Fire Department and E.S.C.A.P.E. Fire and Safety torched a Christmas tree to demonstrate the fire hazard when a tree is dried out. Watch this segment which aired on eightWest on December 19, 2013.

To see the U.S. Fire Administration video demonstrations showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be compared to a tree watered regularly, click here.


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