Christmas Tree Safety

By: Sarah Batista
By: Sarah Batista

Thursday, Albemarle County fire officials used their live burn training facility to show just how quickly a dry Christmas tree can ignite from nearby heat sources. And it didn't take long; within minutes the tree erupted in flames and quickly spread to nearby furniture. Plumes of toxic smoke streamed from the windows.

Fire officials say the demonstration is one way for them to help prevent deadly fires this holiday season. And we have some tips for you as well; to make sure this doesn't happen in your home.

First, place your tree away from fireplaces and other heat sources, and water it constantly.

Also, remember to replace any frayed or damaged Christmas light cords.

Be sure to keep your candles in non–combustible holders, away from decorations.

And most importantly, check the batteries in your smoke detector to make sure they work properly.

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    Christmas Tree Safety

    • When decorating Christmas trees, always use safe tree lights. (Some lights are designed only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.) Larger tree lights should also have some type of reflector rather than a bare bulb and all lights should be listed by a testing laboratory.

    • Never use electric lights on a metal tree.

    • Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to use tree lights. Any string of lights with worn, frayed or broken cords or loose bulb connections should not be used.

    • Always unplug Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to sleep.

    • Never use lit candles to decorate a tree, and place them well away from tree branches.

    • Try to keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water daily. Do not purchase a tree that is dry or dropping needles.

    • Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.

    • When purchasing an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire-retardant.

    • Children are fascinated with Christmas trees. Keep a watchful eye on them when around the tree and do not let them play with the wiring or lights.

    • Store matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.

    • Make sure the tree is at least three feet (one meter) away from any heat source and try to position it near an outlet so that cords are not running long distances. Do not place the tree where it may block exits.

    • Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are highly flammable and should not be left in a house or garage, or placed against the house.

    Christmas Tree Fire Facts

    • In 1998, Christmas trees were the first item ignited in 300 home fires, resulting in 11 injuries and $8 million in direct property damage.

    • The leading cause of Christmas tree fires and property damage was short circuit or ground fault (21 percent). In this category, electrical failure other than short circuit ranked second in number of fires, injuries and property damage with the exception of the "other known" category.

    • Cords and plugs were the leading type of equipment involved in the ignition of Christmas trees

    • Unspecified short circuit arc accounted for an average of more than 100 fires (20 percent), no civilian deaths, 14 civilian injuries, and $3.3 million in direct property damage from 1994-1998.

    Source: (National Fire Protection Association Web site) contributed to this report.

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