Christmas Tree Fires: Rare but Deadly

Tree Fire caused by outlet

Tis the season for gazing at Christmas trees bedazzled with twinkling lights and ornaments…a beautiful sight to behold on a cold winter’s night, hot beverage in hand. But as is the case any time electrical equipment is involved, the risk of fire is always present if proper cautionary measures are not taken. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 200 home structure fires annually that begin with Christmas trees. While this statistic accounts for only 6 deaths, 16 civilian injuries and $15 million in direct property damage on average annually, it is significant to note that the ratio of death and loss per fire is almost five times higher when Christmas trees were the origin as compared to other structural fires (NFPA/11/17). In researching “best practices” for indoor tree maintenance, we culled the following universal guidelines from the professionals in the field.

Rules for a healthy tree:

• Choose a tree with fresh green needles that do not fall off when touched or tugged.
• Make a fresh cut two inches from the base of the trunk.
• ALWAYS be sure that base of trunk is submerged in water. (If base is not in water, a layer of sap forms over the surface, preventing the tree from absorbing enough water).
• Water daily, especially the first week.

Rules for illuminating your tree:

• Always check light strands for frayed wires, broken bulbs and loose connections. Tip: A good way to examine them is to plug them in before hanging them on the tree.
• Don’t overload outlets or use multiple extension cords end to end; the cords overheat.
• Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lamps. One quarter of Christmas tree fires are caused by failing to pay attention to this basic precaution. Candles alone started 8% of the tree fires! (NFPA 2019).
• Put lights on a timer as a failsafe…it’s too easy to occasionally forget to unplug before bed or leaving the house.
• Verify smoke detectors are functioning and have a working fire extinguisher on hand. These tree fires can double in size every minute, so early detection is critical!

One in four tree fires stem from electrical problems (Per Richey Austin of Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ, 11/19). But fires involving Christmas trees are almost always preventable. Keeping them well-watered is one of the most effective ways to ensure fire prevention. Testing has shown that fire retardant sprays have no significant impact on reducing the flammability of trees that have not been properly watered. And whether you choose to have a live or an artificial tree, experts concur that the safest rule of thumb is to always unplug the lights when leaving the house or going to bed.

So, enjoy decking the halls and trimming the tree! We wish you all a happy and safe holiday season!