Water Trees, Monitor Holiday Lights For Safety

December 29, 2017 GMT

Water your Christmas tree, keep it far away from heat sources and do not leave holiday lights on unattended.

That is the recipe for avoiding a potential fire caused by holiday decorations — especially trees that have started to dry up and pose a higher fire risk after several weeks on display, according to local and national fire safety experts.

“The best thing you want to do is keep the tree watered,” said Wilkes-Barre Deputy Fire Chief Alan Klapat. “Make sure there are no space heaters or open flames around it.”

Klapat recommended that people turn off holiday lights before leaving the house and before retiring for the night. Even though most holiday light bulbs meet modern safety standards, the strings of lights often include very thin wiring that can cause electrical problems, Klapat said.

“Do not leave them turned on in the interior of the house unless you are home,” he said.

Falling needles, especially if the needles have turned brown, are a sure sign that a tree is drying up, according to Kingston Assistant Fire Chief Len Chesterfield.

He stressed the importance of keeping Christmas trees supplied with a steady stream of liquid nourishment.

“Basically, the key is to keep them watered,” Chesterfield said. “That’s the main thing.”

It is also a good idea to keep trees as far away as possible from heating vents, since blowing hot air can make trees dry out faster, he said.

Chesterfield suggested that anyone who hangs strings of holiday lights should check for frayed cords. He cautioned against plugging in too many cords and electrical devices to power strips which are not designed to handle the load.

This is also a good time to check that smoke alarms are functioning properly and have fresh batteries installed, both fire chiefs said.

The word about holiday fire safety has spread in recent years, Klapat said.

Firefighters respond to fewer fires caused by Christmas trees and holiday decorations than they did 20 to 30 years ago, he said.

Such fires still happen, though.

Each year from 2011-2015, fire departments in the United States responded to an average of 200 structure fires caused by Christmas trees, resulting in an average of six deaths, 16 injuries and $14.8 million in direct property damage annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

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Safety tips

The nonprofit American Christmas Tree Association posted the following fire safety tips on its website:

• Always place your tree away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights, and keep the tree base filled with water to avoid a dry out.

• Make sure all your indoor and outdoor Christmas lights have been tested in a lab by the UL or ETL/ITSNA for safety, and throw out any damaged lights.

• Any lights you use outdoors must be labeled suitable for exterior placement, and be sure to plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter protected receptacle.

• Keep all holiday candles away from your Christmas tree, surrounding furniture and décor.

• Don’t forget to turn your Christmas tree lights off each night.