Holiday safety: Be cautious with live trees, décor

With the holiday season here, decorating is in full swing, so Peter Bernstein, Redding Fire and EMS Co. #1 fire marshal and Georgetown’s deputy fire marshal, reminds residents to take precautions when decorating with live Christmas trees and other  flammable materials.

Mr. Bernstein said FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) issued a holiday safety bullet point list on what not to do while decorating for the season.

“They’re saying don’t put live Christmas trees up too early or don’t put them up longer than two weeks, but the key is to keep them watered and to have a fresh cut at least three inches from the bottom,” he said.

The sap will close up the bottom of the tree and won’t allow water to be absorbed. By giving it a fresh cut, water will be able to get in, he explained.

“Even cut an X in the bottom [of the stump] so the tree sits flush in the bottom of the stand so it can still take water up,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Obviously, once the tree is set up, don’t put it near a heat source.”

Keep trees way from fireplaces, space heaters, woodstoves, and even floor heating vents, he said. The warm air blowing will dry the tree out.

“Once the tree is dry, it is extremely susceptible to ignition,” he said.

If a resident has a live tree, check the water daily or even twice a day and make sure the water is full.

“They drink a lot, especially in the beginning,” he said.

For residents who have artificial trees, Mr. Bernstein said to check the lights and wires to make sure there aren’t any cracks or bad connections.

When it comes to decorating the tree and other places in the home, “you don’t want to decorate with too many combustibles — paper items, things kids make,” he said. The more combustible items, the more fuel added to the fire, he said.

People should remove their Christmas trees a week to two weeks after the holiday.

“When you grab the branches and needles start to fall off, it’s time to get rid of it. They aren’t made to last long. They stop drinking water and start to dry out,” said Mr. Bernstein. “With a live Christmas tree, once those needles are dry, it takes nothing for an ignition to light it up. They are a flaming torch, they burn hot and fast.”

If a tree was purchased at the end of November or beginning of December, the person should get rid of it within a week after Christmas, he said.

Candles are also a common decoration during the holidays and winter season.

“No, no, no, no candles on the Christmas tree. Battery-operated or electric candles aren’t too bad; just make sure they are lifted and have no cracks in the wiring, [make sure] there is a bulb in every socket, and don’t leave any open sockets, even if you put a burnt-out bulb in its place,” he said.

For strands of Christmas lights, don’t link more than three strands together for one plug. “Once you get to three strips, you are sort of exceeding the capacity,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Also, when plugging in any type of lights or decorations, plug them into a surge-protected plug strip, he said.

“Invest in a good surge-protected outlet plug strip and always inspect everything — wiring, lights, broken bulbs. Any damaged lights — get rid of, throw them away and get another set,” said Mr. Bernstein.

When it comes to items that have a higher wattage, plug them directly into the wall outlet or an appropriately sized extension cord.

“If you have to go three feet or four feet, don’t buy a 20-foot extension cord when you only need five feet. Coiled extension cords produce inductive heat. It creates internal heat which can start a fire,” he said. “We had that in Redding a couple years ago. People were running a space heater with a long extension cord coiled up on the floor with boxes all around. It heated up and ignited the cord and burnt a hole right through the floor.”

Visit usfa.fema.gov for the full Holiday and Christmas Tree Safety guide.

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