Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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Avoid a fire hazard and celebrate Christmas safely

Take steps to ensure your tree doesn’t go up in flames this holiday season

2 Photos
Christmas trees pose a unique fire risk because of how flammable they are when they dry out.
Christmas trees pose a unique fire risk because of how flammable they are when they dry out. ( Photo Gallery

Fresh-cut Christmas tress can make the entire house smell festive, but they also pose a fire risk if not handled properly.

Philadelphians don’t need to look far in the city’s past to be reminded of the quick and horrific damage that a Christmas tree on fire can cause. That was the cause in a Fairmount rowhouse fire that claimed the lives of 12 people, including nine children, in January.

“There is not a day that goes by that we in the Philadelphia Fire Department don’t think about the families that we lost earlier this year in the Fairmount fire,” Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said on Monday in an annual event promoting holiday fire safety.

There have been 37 fire deaths in the city so far this year, plus hundreds of people injured or displaced by home fires, he said.

Christmas trees pose a unique fire risk because of how flammable they are when they dry out.

A week and a half before the fire in Fairmount, in the early morning hours of Christmas day 2021, a father and his two sons died in Quakertown, Bucks County, after lights caused a dry Christmas tree to ignite.

“Whether you choose a live tree, or like many firefighters, an artificial tree, which is much safer, it’s important to be extra cautious and fire-safe during the holidays,” Thiel said.

Here are some guidelines to making sure you celebrate safely this year.

  • Get a tree as close to Christmas as possible

If you decide to get a fresh Christmas tree, purchase it as close to Christmas as possible, especially if you are buying from a pre-cut tree lot, fire battalion chief Gustav Baumann said.

Want the freshest possible tree? Cut it yourself at a farm.

  • Prepare the tree

Once you’ve gotten your tree home, cut 2 inches from the bottom of the stump to help it better absorb water. Trees begin to dry out as soon as they’re cut, and resin may seal over the old cut, preventing the tree from absorbing water.

Use goggles, gloves, and a saw with a handle and blade with no broken teeth, Baumann said.

“Even though we picked up our tree as close to Christmas, we’re not sure when it got cut down,” he said.

  • Always keep water in the stand

Set the tree firmly in the stand with room for plenty of water. It is critical to check the level of water every day to make sure the tree remains hydrated.

  • Think about decorations and the tree’s surroundings

Any decorations on a tree that are electrical, such as lights, require a solid connection. That means one outlet, one plug — no power strips or extension cords.

“Never overload the outlets,” Baumann said.

Make sure that there are no portable space heaters or any other heat sources, such as radiators or baseboard heaters, close to the tree. As a general rule, keep the tree three feet from anything that could be considered flammable.

  • Dispose of your tree safely and ecologically

Maybe you’re the type to leave your outdoor Christmas lights up until spring, but Christmas trees should be disposed of as soon as the holidays are over.

Other fire safety tips for the holiday season

  • Be very careful smoking next to a Christmas tree.
  • Do not put candles next to a tree.
  • Check all string light wires for wear.
  • If you are celebrating Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, make sure that your menorah or kinara are at least 3 feet from anything flammable. Consider having a nearby source of water that could act as a fire extinguisher.
  • Never leave open flames unattended by an adult.
  • When cooking holiday meals, keep track of any open flame and never leave stoves and ovens unattended.
  • Make sure that every floor of your house has a working smoke alarm. Call 311 if you can’t afford one.
  • Once a smoke alarm goes off, everybody in the house needs to know what to do. Have an exit plan and practice it.