Some people have had their Christmas trees up for awhile, and others are now shopping for them, but if a live tree is involved the message for both is making sure they don’t cause a problem.
“Several times throughout my career, I’ve heard of circumstances of trees being involved in fires, and that’s just so sad — especially at this time of year,” said Mount Airy Fire Chief Zane Poindexter.
Along with trees, major problems can result from items such as electric lights and candles and spoil what should be an enjoyable time of year.
Last Dec. 12, for example, nine members of a family who lived on Pine Drive in the Toast community were displaced by a blaze linked to combustible materials — including a Christmas tree — being too close to a baseboard heating unit. Although all occupants got out safely, heavy damage resulted to their brick home.
The use of natural trees as holiday decorations is “reasonably safe,” Poindexter said, as long as precautions are taken.
“First and foremost is water,” he said of the ongoing need to keep them hydrated properly.
When a tree is first obtained, it is a good idea to make a fresh cut at the bottom, if someone has a saw or other means to do so, the fire chief said. This allows the tree to better draw in water to keep its branches from drying out during the Christmas season.
After that point, constant attention is advised. “It needs checking every single day,” Poindexter said of the water level in the tree stand tray. “I’ve heard of animals drinking out of it — that’s a way for it to lose water.”
Tree, as well as other decorations, also should be placed away from fireplaces, vents or other heat sources that can dry a tree out, including portable heating units, the fire chief said. A dry tree is more easily ignited by heat, flames and sparks.
Though some people like to get a head start on the season by installing trees weeks ahead of Christmas, that can be detrimental where live ones are concerned, as experts advise not leaving a tree up for more than two weeks.
Trees or other holiday decorations also should not block an exit.
Christmas tree safety is a greater concern for residences than businesses.
“We do find a lot of Christmas trees are maintained inside businesses,” Poindexter said. Fire codes prohibit some businesses from having cut trees based on classifications of occupancy. A nursing home, for example, may not do so unless it has a sprinkler system.
Additional fire dangers are associated with lights and other electrical implements.
“The trend now is the LED (light emitting diode) lights, which take a lot less current than the old halogen ones,” Poindexter said.
For displays around a home, it is not advisable to link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it’s safe. Strings of lights should be connected to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet.
Use of heavy-duty or high-quality extension cords is recommended, as thinner cords can overheat. “For some people, that’s not one of the top things they think of,” the fire chief said.
Cords can become damaged if run through doorways where they are subjected to opening and closing, which poses a shock hazard as well as fire danger.
Overloading of circuits also can spark a blaze. “Don’t plug too many things into one outlet, ” said Poindexter, who added that multi-pronged adapters which allow one to “cheat” on the number of plug-ins also should be avoided.
Using power-strip or surge-protector-type devices is another recommended safety measure. “A breaker installed inside the device will trip before it overloads and causes a fire,” Poindexter explained.
Only non-flammable Christmas decorations should be used.
Since candles have caused many major fires, officials warn against using lit ones and say battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like the real thing, should be considered instead.
Overall, lessening such risks at Christmastime requires extra thought, time and expense, but Mount Airy’s fire chief said the alternative can be a much higher price including property damage or loss of life.
“If it helps one person, we feel like that’s an accomplishment,” he said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.