Use common sense safety precautions to avoid Christmas tree fires

COVINGTON — With the onset of the Christmas holiday season, the chance of home fires seems to increase. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns that statistics show that an estimated 300 fires and 30 injuries a year result from Christmas trees alone.

But local firefighters warn that with a little forethought and by taking common sense safety precautions, tragedy can often be avoided.

It begins when you select a tree.

“Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched,” Covington Fire Department Capt. Tony Smith said.

The next crucial step is to pay attention to where you are placing the tree.

Rockdale Fire and Rescue Safety Educator Sharon Webb suggested being careful not to place the tree near a heat source of any kind, especially a fireplace or heater vent, and to keep the tree stand filled with water at all times. Statistics show one in every six Christmas tree fires result from the tree being placed too close to a heat source.

Deputy Chief Brad Stapp with Newton County Fire Service said his agency fought a Christmas tree fire last year where the homeowner had made a mistake in placement of the tree.

“About this time last year we had a fire where our investigation showed a live tree had been placed too close to the fireplace,” he said, adding that when a Christmas tree catches fire, the fire often moves fast.

Smith said for best results in making sure the tree absorbs the moisture before placing the tree in the stand, make a fresh cut of about 2 inches from the base of the trunk.

Never place candles near a Christmas tree and make sure they are kept out of reach of children or pets.

“Candles shouldn’t be unattended. They should be used very cautiously indoors,” Stapp said. “Fires resulting from unattended candles are something we get year-round.”

Webb said lights should be inspected yearly for frayed wires, bare spots and broken or cracked sockets. If you find a damaged string of lights, throw it away.

The National Fire Prevention Association says that one of every three home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems. And although such fires are not common, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious.

Smith said not to place electric cords under a tree skirt or batting often placed around a tree as these materials can catch fire.

Connect no more than three strands of mini-light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. LED lights are the coolest and safest.

Other safety rules include:

• Use the lights for where they are intended — outdoor lights only for outdoors and indoor lights for interior use;

• Use only lighting that is approved by testing laboratories;

• Do not overload electrical outlets;

• Do not leave holiday lights unattended. Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

• And when Christmas is over, be sure to remove the tree from your home promptly, before it becomes too dry.

“Dried out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the house,” Smith warned.

There are disposal areas provided for trees at recycling centers or, often, community projects such as Bring One for the Chipper are made available.