The holidays are a time for high alert for fire and public safety workers.  A combination of portable heaters, fireplaces, candles, a busy kitchen and Christmas Trees and Lights lead to a high percentage of fires this time of the year. Statistics show roughly three-quarters of Christmas tree fires occurred in December or January.

State of Michigan Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer. Courtesy State of Michigan Fire Marshal's Office
State of Michigan Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer. Courtesy State of Michigan Fire Marshal's Office

Christmas tree farms are reporting higher sales this year than in the past several years, as homebound people look for a little extra “joy” this holiday season.  Michigan State Fire Marshall was a guest on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins, and offered the following tips regarding Christmas trees.


Christmas Trees

  • If your family prefers real trees, be sure to water yours every day because dry needles and wood catch fire more easily.
  • If getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and water it to keep it fresh. Bend the needles up and down to make sure no needles fall off.
  • Immediately before placing a tree in its stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk.  This can help the tree to draw up water. If the cut surface is allowed to dry, it will reduce the water uptake to the tree.  You might be able to skip this step if you’re cutting down your own fresh tree and putting it up the same day.
  • Make sure to check the water level in the stand daily.  Consider buying a Christmas tree stand that is easy to check and holds a lot of water.   Consider using a plastic tube, like a vacuum cleaner attachment to make it easier to fill.
  • When putting your tree up, keep it at least three feet away from fireplaces, space heaters, candles, heat vents, lights or any heat source.
  • Make sure that the tree does not block an exit.
  • Get rid of the tree soon after Christmas or when it is dry and keep it away from your home and garage. Of the ten days with the largest shares of Christmas tree fires, none were before Christmas.
  • If you are buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label.
Christmas Vacation-Uncle Louis burns up the tree-YouTube
Christmas Vacation-Uncle Louis burns up the tree-YouTube

Christmas Tree Lights

  • Old fashioned Christmas celebrations featured wax candles on live tree branches, inside homes!  Don’t ever use a lit candle on a Christmas tree.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment is involved in 44% of home Christmas tree fires.  Don’t plug more than 3 strings into each other.  You can use a power strip instead.
  • Inspect your lights carefully under good light and discard light strings that are worn or broken.
  • Some people still have retro-trees that are metallic.  Don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.
  • Don’t forget to turn off all holiday lights when going to bed or leaving the house. And that probably means unplugging the lights.   You can even buy light timers that work with your wifi, allowing you to turn them on and off with your cell phone, even when you’re not home.
  • When decorating outside, make sure decorations are for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If using hooks or nails outside, make sure they are insulated to avoid an electrocution or fire hazard.
  • Don't use flimsy extension cords. Extension cords should always be heavy-duty, quality cords that are grounded for fire safety.
  • Never run extension cords under rugs or in areas where they pose a tripping hazard.
  • Keep in mind that an extension cord is meant to be used as a temporary solution so if you’re using one on a regular basis, you may want to hire an electrician to install permanent power.

Finally, as we learned in the movie “Christmas Vacation”, keep idiot relatives who smoke away from your tree.

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