Christmas tree safety: Keep your holidays from going up in flames

Published 9:21 am Sunday, December 2, 2018

This holiday season, Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Mike Causey is reminding North Carolinians to stay focused on fire safety, especially when it comes to the Christmas trees standing in their homes.

Last week, Causey, along with local fire officials, hosted a live Christmas tree fire demonstration in Fayetteville to show just how quickly a dry Christmas tree can burn and spread flames throughout a room.

The demonstration included two live burns featuring a room with sprinklers and a room without sprinklers to reinforce the importance of smoke alarms and home fire safety efforts during the holiday season.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

“A Christmas tree can be a beautiful addition to a home but if not handled properly, they can dry out quickly and turn into a dangerous fire hazard,” said Causey. “As everyone gets busier during the holidays, it’s easy to become careless and that’s when home fires are more likely to occur.”

So far in 2018, there have been 124 fire deaths in North Carolina. Many of those deadly fires occurred in homes without the presence of a working smoke alarm.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, each year, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 200 structure fires ignited by Christmas trees. Nearly half of them are caused by electrical problems, and one in four resulted from a heat source that was too close to the tree.

Between 2011-15, Christmas tree fires caused an annual average of six civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $14.8 million in property damage.

Causey offered the following safety tips to keep your family safe during the holidays:

  • Make sure the tree you select is fresh; the trunk should be sticky to the touch and branches should not easily snap when you bend them. Shake the tree and make sure not too many loose needles fall off as a result.
  • Before bringing your tree indoors, make a 1/2 fresh cut on the bottom of trunk and let it stand in a bucket of water outside for 12 hours before bringing indoors and placing in its stand.
  • Check the water in the tree stand daily, make sure your tree isn’t blocking any exits and keep it at least three feet away from heat vents or other heat sources.
  • If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Make sure all decorations are flame-retardant or flame-resistant.
  • Do not overload extension cords and electrical outlets.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
  • After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or placed outside the home.
  • Check your town or city’s waste management website for information about tree recycling.

If a fire does occur in your home, make sure that you have working smoke alarms that will give everyone in your home the time needed to get out safely; be sure that family and overnight guests know the sound of your alarm and have practiced your home escape plan.