Christmas Tree Safety

12/13/2016

Healthy Living – December 13, 2016
Amy Movius, MD

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Nothing says Christmas cheer like a brightly lit tree, covered in decorations and surrounded by presents waiting to be opened. This symbol of the holidays, brought into so many homes, also needs to be carefully handled because of dangers that come with it, especially fire.

Fortunately Christmas tree fires are uncommon. However, when they occur the risk for tragedy is enormous. These fires are about four times more likely to result in death than house fires in general, largely due to how quickly they can ignite and get out of control.

More than one-third of Christmas tree fires start because of faulty electrical lights – be it bulbs, wiring, cords or plugs. Other factors in these fires include how dry the tree is and how near it is to a heat source. The good news is that these risks factors can be nearly eliminated in some very simple ways.
First, choose your Christmas tree wisely. It should be freshly cut, but unless you cut your own, it can be hard to tell how fresh a pre-cut tree is. Obviously, the tree should be nice and green. When you shake a fresh tree, only a few needles should come off.  When you fold the needles, they should bend rather than break.  If they snap apart, move on to a different tree. Also, the trunk of a fresh cut tree will be sticky. If you are worried about getting the tree inside your house without getting sap on your floor, it’s probably a good one!

Second, where you put your tree is very important.  It should not be in high traffic areas, nor should it be blocking any doorways, halls or exits. It should be at least three feet away from any heat source including fireplaces, space heaters, registers and baseboards, even decorative candles.
Third, what you place on your tree matters. All decorations should be nonflammable.  Tree lights need special treatment every year. Make sure they are approved for indoor use and check that all the bulbs, wires and plugs are in perfect condition – even if you just opened a new box.  Never connect more than 3 strings of lights together and ALWAYS turn them off when you leave the house or go to bed.

Fourth, treat your tree well!  Heated homes (think every dwelling in Maine) dry out Christmas trees quickly.   Before bringing your pre-cut tree in, cut a couple more inches off the trunk.  The newly exposed wood will soak up water better.  Keep your tree stand filled with water every single day.  Lastly, say a fond goodbye to your tree soon after the holidays are over.  Even with lots of TLC, your tree is going to dry out and this is probably why almost 40% of all Christmas tree fires happen in January.

Go and get caught up in the holiday spirit!  Just make sure looking after your Christmas tree is part of the tradition.  Season’s Greetings to all!
 
References:
  1.  National Fire Protection Association (www.nfpa.org)
    1. Christmas Tree Safety Tips
    2. Home Christmas Tree Fires Fact Sheet
  2. www.aap.org   Holiday Safety Tips
  3. www.healthfinder.gov  When Buying a Christmas Tree, Think Safety First