A familiar warning comes every holiday season -- don’t let your Christmas tree catch on fire.
Holiday trees and lights cause about 390 fires annually in the United States, resulting in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in direct property damages, the National Fire Protection Association reports.
And while many people are being encouraged to buy trees earlier due to shortages, this may cause damage if safety measures aren’t taken.
Hidden dangers with live trees
According to Fire Chief John Murray from the Nassau County Firefighters’ Museum and Education Center in New York, the underlying problem with Christmas tree fires is people not hydrating the tree when they take it home.
Trees need water to survive in nature. Christmas trees are no different and should have water at all times. The National Park Service suggests cutting 2 inches off the trunk before setting up the tree to help absorb moisture.
"They drink a lot of water, and people forget that," Murray said.
Once the tree gets dry, it will stop drinking water. You want to maintain that water in the tree before bringing it into the house.
"And now there’s a shortage of trees, we understand," Murray said. "So people are rushing to get them and get them home. And we know that they’re going to get antsy, and they’re going to put them in the house right away. It’s way too early."
Murray said the trees shouldn’t put it in the house for a week before Christmas, and then a week after Christmas, out it goes.
"So 10 to 14 days is the limit for these things to be in the house, and they have to be well-hydrated day after day," Murray said.
A fresh tree should always be chosen if you purchase a live Christmas tree. The NPS recommends the stump be sticky and the needles green. They should also be challenging to pull back from the branches.
As a testing measure, try bouncing the trunk on the ground. If you see many needles fall off, the tree is too dry and could be a potential fire hazard. You should never place your tree away near fireplaces or heat vents.
As soon as needles start falling off, dispose of the tree but do not burn it in a fireplace or woodstove.
And finally, you will want to make sure that all the exits in your home are clear of trees and other holiday decorations in case of an emergency.
Make your holidays’ merry and bright’
Yes, we can all learn from Clark Griswold. But to have fun old-fashioned family Christmas, there are steps to take when setting up your holiday lights.
"The number one cause that we’ve seen are the lights that are not handled properly," Murray said. "People end up storing them wrong and they can crack it once they put them on a tree to be an electrical short. And up the tree goes."
The NPS suggests you inspect your lights before use and discard any strands with cracked blubs, excessive kinking, frayed cords, or loose sockets. The wires should not be warm to the touch.
No more than three light strands or 50 screw-in bulbs should be linked together and avoid overloading electrical outlets.
While the staple gun or nails might seem useful, always use clips to hang your lights. Also, never use electric lights on a metallic tree.
And while many newer lights are made for both indoors and outdoors, you want to verify the type of lights you have before use. The NPS said you could find this information on the tag near the plug.
The NPS says candles should burn at least 12 inches from flammable materials and should never be left unattended. They should also be kept away from children, pets or where medical oxygen is being used.
You could also consider battery-operated candles, which offer the same ambiance as wax candles.
Deck the halls wisely
All holiday decorations should be nonflammable and away from lights and heat vents.
While old wrapping paper might seem like the perfect kindling in a fireplace. The NPS says a large fire can throw off dangerous sparks and cause a chimney fire. And never smoke near your decorations.