Christmas Tree Safety Tips from Laconia Fire Department

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson says that the Laconia Fire Department would like to take this time to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

He also issued the following tips for Christmas tree safety.

It is that time of year when Christmas trees are brought into our homes. Christmas time is a wonderful time of year however it can also be very dangerous.

The Christmas tree is probably one of the most recognized seasonal symbols in the world. Unfortunately, a Christmas tree, if not properly cared for, can create a very dangerous fire hazard. Normally, Christmas trees are harvested starting in October. They are then transported throughout the country for sale to the public. By the time you purchase a tree and bring it home the tree could be several months old. Obviously if you cut your own tree it is as fresh as possible. However, once you place the tree indoors the drying process accelerates - Christmas trees must be watered daily.

It is a typical December with cold temperatures. The dew point though has been very low. That is the level of moisture in the air. Our homes are much dryer than normal. This means that a Christmas tree is losing moisture even faster. As soon as you get your tree home place it in a bucket of water. Let it absorb as much water as possible. Be sure you first cut the butt off so there is fresh wood exposed. Most good tree dealers will do this for you.

Every year there are thousands of home fires involving Christmas trees. Every year the damage is in the millions and 30 to 40 people will die in fires as a result of Christmas trees catching fire. Fortunately, the number of home fires related to Christmas trees is steadily declining. This is primarily because of awareness, early detection of fires, and the use of artificial trees.

Christmas trees are a very short term hazard and do produce a high proportionate loss. When a Christmas tree is ignited, the resulting fire is very hot and intense. Fire will spread rapidly and devour the room it is in just seconds. If the tree is near a stairway the fire will spread up the stairs in seconds preventing escape. Any person upstairs will not be able to come down this stairway.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to reduce the risk: water. A Christmas tree needs to be adequately watered every day. The moisture content of the needles will determine how fast a tree can be ignited and then burn. If a tree is baled after cutting this will help retain moisture. Once the wrapping is cut and the branches open up the tree will quickly start to dry out.

When picking a Christmas tree bounce the tree on the ground. If needles fall off then the tree is already too dry. After you pick your Christmas tree it is very important that you make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk. A straight cut is all that is needed. This allows water to travel up through the rings of the tree. Put the tree into a large stand as soon as possible. Keep the stand filled with water at all times. A large tree may soak up to 3 quarts of water per day; especially in the first few days when the tree attempts to rehydrate itself. It is very important to keep a tree adequately watered. If the tree dries out beyond a certain point, it will not rehydrate.

According to experts it is best to use plain ordinary tap water. There are a number of additives for sale that claim to reduce the flammability of Christmas trees. There is no evidence that validates these claims. The best solution is plenty of water. You may need to fill the basin 2 or 3 times per day.

Try to keep your tree away from doorways and stairways. Never place a Christmas tree near a fireplace or other type of heating unit. This will cause the tree to dry out regardless of the amount of water in the tree stand. Check your Christmas lights to make sure they are in good shape. If the wire is worn or frayed throw the lights away and buy new lights. Never use candles on or near a Christmas tree. Always put the lights out if you're leaving the house and before going to bed.

After Christmas remove the tree as soon as possible. It will definitely be dried out by then. Store the tree away from the house. Never store it in the garage, in the basement, or on the porch.

Please heed our advice and you and your family will have a safer holiday season.