The first Christmas trees were decorated with candles. Tiny fires lit all over a dry, dying tree? Talk about an insurance risk.
Not surprisingly, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Christmas tree fires occurred frequently in the U.S. Homes, churches, stores, and even a Chicago hospital in 1885 fell victim to Christmas tree fires. Fires happened so often that newspapers would report on the season’s first Christmas tree fire as casually as the first snow of the season, says Bloomberg View.
Christmas lights are a lot safer nowadays, right? Sure, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to fire risk.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), from 2007 to 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 230 home structure fires that were started by Christmas trees. One-third of Christmas tree structure fires were caused by electrical failures or malfunctions, and nearly 20% of these structure fires occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree.
Here are some tips from the NFPA to protect your home from a Christmas tree fire:
1. Pick the right tree.
If your family prefers getting a real tree, make sure to get one with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. Shedding needles mean your tree is drying out and is a fire hazard. A fresh tree should be in a stable stand that holds one quart of water per inch of the tree trunk’s diameter. Cut one to two inches off the trunk before placing the tree in the stand, and be sure to replace water at least daily.
If you are going for an artificial tree, make sure to check its label or with the manufacturer to verify that it is fire retardant.
2. Find the right spot.
When you put your tree up, keep it at least three feet away from heat sources, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, or lights. Also, make sure your tree isn’t blocking any entrance or exit from the room or home.
3. Use the right decorations.
Never use candles to decorate the tree. It might seem like a sweet, old-timey look, but as we discussed, there’s a reason why we stopped using them!
When decorating your tree, use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Check strands of lights for any signs of damage or wear. Replace any with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections.
Only connect up to three strands of mini string sets to light your tree, or a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. If using LED lights, read the manufacturer’s instructions for the maximum recommended number of strands to connect.
Never run electrical cords from the tree through doorways or under carpets, and don’t overload electrical outlets. Unplug the tree before leaving the house or going to bed, and make sure to have at least one smoke detector and fire extinguisher in the house.
4. Dispose of your tree properly.
Get rid of your tree when it begins shedding needles. Check with your community to find a tree recycling program to properly dispose of the tree. Dried-out needles themselves are a fire hazard, so old trees should not be left in homes or garages, or placed outside against a home.