Christmas trees and decorations are a beautiful and festive tradition of the holiday season; however, they can increase your chances of a fire.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments nationwide respond to about 240 home structure fires each year that started with Christmas trees. The Aiken Department of Public Safety has a few tips to keep in mind while you deck your halls this holiday.
According to Sgt. Jake Mahoney, a fire that starts with a Christmas tree can get out of hand “in a matter of seconds.”
“The fuel is already present in a very volatile state with the dry Christmas tree,” he said. “It can ignite within seconds, and you’ll have a tree on fire and a room and contents well underway.”
If you’re purchasing an artificial tree, Mahoney said to look for a “Fire resistant” label. That doesn’t mean the tree won’t catch fire, but it indicates the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
If you plan to get a live tree, make sure you check for freshness. A fresh tree will be green, the needles are hard to pull from branches, and when bent between your fingers, the needles won’t break, Mahoney said. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose any needles.
Once you have your tree purchased and set up, place it away from heat sources like fireplaces and radiators, Mahoney said. Also, make sure the tree is out of the way of traffic and doesn’t block exits.
Mahoney urged people to use caution with lights and electrical cords and outlets.
“Don’t overload outlets, and inspect all equipment used for frayed or damaged cords prior to operation,” he said.
Only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials should be used to trim a tree, Mahoney said. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles made of plastic or non-leaded materials, which are hazardous if ingested by children.
Never use lighted candles on or near a tree, and always use non-flammable holders and place candle out of reach of children, Mahoney said.
“The big things are the Christmas tree lights, unattended candles and other holiday lighting,” he said. “We have been very fortunate that we have not had one (Christmas tree fire) in recent history; however, nationwide, hundred of fires are started by Christmas trees or Christmas decorations, especially the lighting and unattended candles.”
The most important thing you can do to keep your live tree from becoming a fire hazard is to water it consistently, according to Rick’s Produce, which sells trees on Whiskey Road.
“Really, the first three days your tree is going to drink a lot of water,” said James Earp, of Rick’s Produce. “It’s that first 72 hours or so that are most important. Sometimes, one of the larger Christmas trees can take up about two of those gallon buckets a day.”
Mahoney and Earp suggested cutting a few inches off the end of the tree trunk to allow better water absorption.
“When we first cut our trees, the sap will heal the cut, so when you first get your tree it forms this barrier to hold the moisture in,” Earp said, adding that after a tree is purchased from their lot, they cut the trunk to “reopen the wound.”
Earp said some people add ingredients such as Sprite or aspirin to tree water, but a steady watering schedule is the most important thing.
“People mess up or skip a night, and it really affects the water intake of the tree,” he said. “There are all these old wives’ tales – add this or that – but I would recommend just making sure you have your tree thoroughly watered.”
Aiken Public Safety will continue to post safety tips on its Facebook page throughout the holiday season.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.