Fire marshal issues tree, outdoor light safety tips
"The best way to prevent a Christmas tree fire is to water it well every day, use electric lights safely, and dispose of it soon after the holiday," said State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan.
Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious. In the U.S., on average, one of every 40 reported home structure Christmas tree fires results in a death compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home structure fires. Fortunately there were no Christmas tree fires in Massachusetts last year.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems and a heat source too close to the tree caused roughly one in every six.
Selecting a tree: Buy a cut tree 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.
Placing the tree: Place your tree in a non-tip style base 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. Make sure the bulbs themselves are not touching the tree, curtains, wrapped gifts or tree skirts. Never use lighted candles as decorations. Turn off the lights when leaving the house or going to bed for the night. If you use an artificial tree, do not use electric lights on metal trees.
Disposing of the tree: Remove your tree soon after the holidays and take advantage of your community's pick-up day.
The U. S. Fire Administration website has a stunning video from the National Institute of Standards and Training of how a dry Christmas tree can act like a blowtorch in your living room (usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday-seasonal/holiday.shtm) and the National Fire Protection Association has side-by-side video (youtube.com/watch?v=RNjO3wZDVlA ) 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.
Be sure to use only lights rated for outdoor use.
Securely anchor outdoor lights and decorations against the wind and storms with insulated holders or hooks.
Do not drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation; this can cause a fire.
All outdoor electrical decorations should be plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter. You can buy portable units for outdoor use, or you can have them permanently installed by an electrician.
Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life. Consider replacing old outdoor lights with newer LED lights that are "greener" and cooler.
For information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9 NO FIRE or online at state.ma.us/dfs and look for Fire Safety Topics.