Christmas Tree Safety

Christmas Tree Safety

3 mins
December 7, 2021

by Noel Barteck

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and truck loads of Christmas trees have been seen speeding along Highway 29 for weeks now destined for sale lots in the “big city,” it is probably not too soon to start thinking about some holiday safety tips.   

Also traditionally, around the Thanksgiving holiday we begin to think about or start “sprucing” up our homes and businesses for the upcoming Christmas season.  As you are getting ready for holiday decorations there are several important safety recommendations you will want to keep in mind. These precautions can be followed by anyone, although the fire codes require them to be enforced in public places.

Christmas trees and decorations shall be located so they do not interfere with exiting a building. Artificial trees in public occupancies must be of a nonflammable/combustible material or treated with a fire retardant. (Please note that for many years now, live cut trees are no longer permitted in public buildings.)  Natural trees should have the trunk sawed off at least one inch above the original cut end and shall be cut immediately before being placed in a water bearing stand. The water level should always be above the cut.  

If the water level in the stand drops below the cut end, a seal will form on the cut and the tree will not be able to take up water. Trees of 10 to 12 ft. in height have been recorded to take-up over a gallon of water per day. Cut trees will begin to reduce water uptake within a couple of weeks, and the fire hazard becomes more significant.

At one of our inspection training seminars a news item was reported to our class regarding a fire which occurred in the elevator of a high-rise apartment building in a large city.  It seems that two teen-aged boys were assigned the task of taking the family Christmas tree out of the building for disposal.  While in the elevator, one of the boys began “flicking his Bic” lighter.  When the doors to the elevator opened on the ground floor a burned up tree and two dead boys were found.  Live cut trees pose a significant fire hazard when they get dried out and can burn almost like gasoline.

A quick test for freshness is to bend a single needle. If the needle “snaps” in half, the tree is excessively dry. More obvious signs are needle color changing brown and excessive needle drop off.

General Safety Recommendations:

1.  Natural trees, decorations, and trimmings should be obtained as fresh as possible and allowed to remain indoors only for the period of time they are fresh. Fresh trees retain some fire resistance while the needles are flexible and a glossy green color. Decorations that cannot be maintained in water (like natural wreaths and cut boughs) will begin to show characteristics of dryness in ten days. Natural cut trees maintained in water will begin to show characteristics of dryness in three weeks. A sign of reduced water uptake is the needles begin to have a dull cast to them. This will not be as evident with trees that have been sprayed with a green dye prior to being harvested.

2.  Trees should be held upright in sturdy stands having a base that is broad enough to effectively support the tree against the surrounding activities. Guy wires may be needed to steady oversized trees. Place them where they will not be interfered with.

3.  Trees and decorations should be located safe distances from ignition sources such as heaters, lights, fireplaces, stoves, and candles. The location should also be away from areas where smoking is allowed.  The tree should never be placed near an exit or means of egress from a room or building.

4.  Lights and other electrical components should be tested, labeled, and listed for the application and should be in good condition.  All electrical components should be disconnected when the area is unattended. Miniature lights are cooler than the standard sized lights and therefore do not dry out the needles as quickly.

5One individual should be assigned to check the security and condition of the decorations several times daily particularly where large numbers of people are likely to congregate.

Another commonly noticed violation in connection with Christmas or other decorative lighting is the manner in which these things are fastened. Codes require the use of an insulating material to support any type of electrical wiring. Many times, these lights are simply hung on nails or screw eyes, held up with thumbtacks, or stapled in place. These do not meet code and should be replaced with insulated hangers or staples with an insulated coating on them.

We sincerely hope your holidays are merry and bright, but not bright with the flames of a fire started by careless decorating practices.

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