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DV Pilot police & fire

Christmas trees, decorations pose hazards if you’re not careful

Photo Credit: NJDCA
Photo Credit: NJDCA

A WARNING WORTH REPEATING: Christmas fire hazards cause hundreds of tragedies nationwide. Today, representatives fom the New Jersey Department of Community Affair’s Division of Fire Safety ignited a Christmas tree with decorations, showing how quickly and intensely dry tree can burn.


“The holiday season for many families includes the festive lights and colorful decorations draped throughout homes and public places, and these naturally inspire people,” said DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa. “Unfortunately, hasty decorating, cooking mishaps, and childhood curiosity — combined with common holiday traditions — can be a recipe for disaster.

“We ask that people take a few minutes to review holiday fire prevention tips and apply them to their households so their festivities are also fire safe,” Grifa said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says that trees used indoors during the holiday season account for roughly 400 house fires nationwide each year — leading to 10 deaths, 80 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage.

A significant hazard is created when a Christmas tree begins to dry out. While a fresh tree is not likely to burn well, a dry tree can flare up with incredible speed — and terrible consequences.

“Christmas tree fires, in particular, are substantially more damaging than most other fires,” said Division of Fire Safety Acting Director William Kramer. “These fires result in twice the injuries and five times the fatalities per fire as the average winter holiday home fire.”

Nearly as dangerous are faulty holiday lights.

“Decorative lights and other electrical decorations are attractive and brighten up the season, but they can also increase the risks of fire and electrical injuries if not used safely,” Kramer said.

All of this is preventable:

Live Evergreen Christmas Trees

· If possible, use a “live cut” tree from a tree farm.

· When purchasing a pre-cut tree, make sure the bark is sticky to the touch and look for lots of tree “sap” a gooey, sticky substance, which is evidence the tree is fresh.

· Bend those branches! A branch that snaps off when you bend it is indicative of a very dry tree and a potentially serious hazard.

· Do the “lift and drop” test. Lift the tree and let it fall to the ground. If the ground becomes littered with needles from the tree you are holding, return it to the rack and suggest it be recycled immediately.

· Once you have the tree inside your home, fill the tree stand with water and keep it filled. Some tree experts advise putting some refined sugar into the water also to keep the tree fresh.

· Place the tree  far from heating vents or baseboards. Heating a tree dries it out prematurely.

· Do not put your tree up too early and do not leave it up too late. Both will contribute to it drying out and creating a hazard.

· Never dispose of your tree in any other way than placing it on the curb for pickup or taking it to the municipal recycling center or a non-profit environmental organization for re-purposing. Never cut it up and attempt to burn portions of it in a fireplace.

Decorative Holiday Lighting

· Always inspect each strand of lights each year for any frayed, exposed sections or gaps in the insulated covering. Check each socket to make sure it has retained its insulating integrity. Only use lighting that has been safety tested.

· Do not overload the outlet that powers the strand. More than three strands in any one string of lights are unsafe, unless the manufacturer says otherwise. Lights should not be  extremely warm to the touch.

· Never leave lights unattended.

Holiday Decorations

· Use only nonflammable decorations. They should be labeled “flame retardant” and not left near any heat source.

· Manufactured Christmas trees are always a better choice than “live” trees, if they are labeled flame-retardant.

· Remember to recycle wrapping paper and not dispose of it in any other way, such as in a fireplace. Because of its material, wrapping paper can ignite a chimney fire, which is a common holiday cause of fire.

· Never block exits with lights or decorations.

· Read manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels for any decoration that will be used around young children – such as electric trains or animatronic dolls. Note if it is appropriate for their age group and determine whether adult supervision is required; plan accordingly.

Holiday Candle Safety

· Wax candles look and smell nice, but battery-operated candles are the safest.

· If wax candles are used, make sure they are on a on a stable surface, as well as a fire-resistant base such as in a glass, metal, or ceramic holder with a reservoir to collect heated wax.

· Keep candles away from curtains or anything that may burn.

· Avoid using them in groups or as a tabletop centerpiece in evergreens.

· Never leave a room or the home with any candle burning.

· Trim the candlewick. Trimming wicks means longer lasting candles, less smoke and less risk of fire hazard.

· Children and pets should be kept away from burning candles.

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