According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires during the holidays claim the lives of more than 400 Americans, injure 1,650 and cause more than $990 million in damages. In addition, the National Fire Protection Association notes that Christmas trees are involved in more than 400 fires annually, which highlights the importance of safety practices during the upcoming holiday season.
Christmas trees provide a beautiful focal point for many homes during the holidays, but can also pose a danger. It is important to select a tree that will help prevent fires from spreading rapidly throughout a residence. A lack of knowledge on how to correctly pick a Christmas tree and safely decorate your home can be costly and even harmful.
When picking a cut tree, make sure the needles are fresh—they should not easily break if the tree has just been cut. Bounce the tree trunk on the ground to check if it is a fresh tree. If too many needles fall to the ground, the tree is a potential fire hazard. If a flocked tree is your choice, make sure the flocking is fire retardant and non-toxic.
When placing a tree in your home or business, keep it away from heat sources such as fireplaces and heater vents, as the dry air from these sources will dry out the tree quicker. It is best to keep the Christmas tree for no more than two weeks, but you can extend the freshness of your tree by mounting the tree in a stand that can be filled with water. When the tree is ready to be disposed of, take it to a recycling center or have it picked up by a service.
When lighting your tree, make sure to use low wattage bulbs and decorations. These produce minimal heat and lessen the sources for an ignition. Never use candles or other flames on or around a tree. At bedtime or when leaving the tree unattended for extended periods of time, it is best to turn off the lights.
If you are going to display a tree for a long period, an artificial or metallic tree is preferred, but make sure it is flame retardant to lessen the chances of a fire.
Holiday Lights and Decorations
While preparing to beat the neighborhood competition with the best light display, it’s important to check the holiday lights each year. Before putting up lights, keep an eye out for loose wires, broken sockets or excessive wear and tear. Never overload electrical outlets, and periodically touch the wires to check the temperature—they should not be warm.
When selecting extension cords, pick the one designated for exterior use. These cords use heavier wiring and will be less likely to overheat. Avoid stringing lights and electrical cords through areas where water can collect and submerge the wiring.
When choosing holiday decorations, ensure the label indicates that the decoration is nonflammable or flame retardant. Also, never dispose of wrapping paper in a fireplace as it may emit dangerous sparks and large embers.
The increased use of candles during the holidays can pose a fire hazard. It is best to avoid lighting candles, but if they are lit, employ safety practices to keep your loved ones away from harm.
Make sure that candles are in stable holders and cannot be easily knocked down by pets or children. Never leave candles burning alone in a residence, and make sure candles are located within sight.
Keep candles away from combustibles such as Christmas trees, curtains, clothing or decorations. Do not use candles in sleeping areas and extinguish them before going to sleep.
The holiday season is a time to enjoy some quality time with your loved ones, but it’s also a great chance to educate your family on fire safety. Test your smoke alarms and review your home escape plan in case of an emergency. Most importantly, employ safety practices to ensure a safe and joyous holiday season for you and your loved ones.
Steve Bills is Senior Manager of Loss Prevention for Texas Mutual Insurance Company. Austin-based Texas Mutual Insurance Company is the leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance in Texas.