Peter J. Ostroskey State Fire Marshal
“The best way to prevent a Christmas tree fire is to water it well every day, place it well away from heat sources, and dispose of it soon after the holiday,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Although Christmas tree fires are rare these days, they are very serious when they do occur.” According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one-third of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems and one-quarter start when the tree is placed too close to a heat source such as a fireplace, woodstove, radiator or space heater.
“Turn off the tree when leaving the house or going to bed,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey, “Consider using a timer so you won’t forget.”
- Selecting a Tree: Natural trees should be given a fresh cut at the base and placed immediately in water. When purchasing a tree, buy one that is as fresh as possible. Tap the butt on the ground and grab a branch near the top and pull your hand along it slowly. Needles should not fall off. If you bend a needle and it breaks before bending in half, it’s too dry! If you use an artificial tree, select one with a flame retardant label.
- Caring for the Tree: Make a fresh cut an inch or two off the bottom before placing it in the stand. This will help with absorption. Water a live tree every day. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly.
- Placing the Tree: Place your tree in a non-tip style with wide feet, using extra wires if needed to keep it steady. Keep doorways and exits clear. Place your tree and decorations away from heaters, fireplaces, candles, and other sources of heat.
- Decorating the Tree: Purchase electric holiday lights that are listed by an approved testing agency and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Consider switching to new LED lights that are cooler and use less electricity. Before bringing out the older lights, inspect for frayed wires or other defects. Make sure the bulbs themselves are not touching the tree, curtains, wrapped gifts, and tree skirts. Never use lighted candles as decorations. Turn off the lights when leaving the house or going to bed for the night.
- Disposing of the Tree: Remove your tree soon after the holidays and take advantage of the community curbside pick-up day, if available, or recycling programs.
The U. S. Fire Administration website has a stunning video from the National Institute of Standards and Training (NIST) illustrating how a dry Christmas tree can act like a blowtorch in your living room and the National Fire Protection Association has side-by-side video showing a dry Christmas tree on fire and a well-watered Christmas tree on fire. The fire in a well–watered tree takes much longer to progress.
The State Fire Marshal offers these tips for safe use of outdoor lights:
- Be sure to use only lights rated for outdoor use.
- Consider replacing older outdoor lights with newer LED lights that are ‘greener’ and cooler.
- Securely anchor outdoor lights and decorations against the wind and storms with insulated holders or hooks.
- Use electrical connection protectors to keep water out.
- All outdoor electrical decorations should be plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). You can buy portable units for outdoor use, or you can have them permanently installed by an electrician.
- Don’t overload circuits. 15 amp circuits support 1,800 watts and 20 amp circuits support 2,400 watts.
- Do not drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation; this can cause a fire.
- Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life.
Smoke and CO Alarms
Ostroskey said, “No one thinks they will experience a fire, but sadly so many do over the holidays. Be sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in good working order and review your home escape plan with family and guests.”
For more information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9 NO FIRE or on-line at www.state.ma.us/dfs and search for Winter Holiday Safety.