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Christmas Tree common sense: How to avoid disaster

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Perhaps you jumpstart the holidays by putting your tree up before Thanksgiving. Or maybe you’re more traditional and prefer to wait until closer to Christmas.

Does the piney aroma of a real tree stir fond memories? Or do you enjoy the simplicity of an artificial one reused for years?
Whatever your style, there are sensible precautions you must take to keep your home and family safe.

A Christmas tree, at any given time, can be an electrified combustible that’s just one spark or overloaded outlet away from becoming a raging inferno.
“Whether it’s real or even an artificial one marketed as flame retardant, your Christmas tree comes with distinct risks for fire and other safety hazards,” says Donna Kahm, president and CEO of Southern Tier Health Care System (STHCS), which administers the Southern Tier Child Health and Safety Team. “By taking time to carefully consider your holiday décor, you’ll decrease chances for disaster.”
Here’s some tree-related common sense so your festiveness this holiday season doesn’t become a statistic:

  • Water live trees often and discard them once they dry and begin losing needles.
  • Place the tree 3 feet or more from heat sources like fireplaces, candles, radiators, heat vents and lights.
  • Turn off tree lights at night and when you’re not home.
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets and don’t chain together multiple surge protectors or extension cords.
  • Use only lights safety tested by recognized and trustworthy agencies like UL or ETL/ITSNA
  • Check light cords for cracks, frayed ends and loose connections; replace defective lights.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions to not exceed maximum numbers of connected light strands.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Do not place a tree so it blocks an exit.

From 2011 to 2015, fire departments across America annually responded to roughly 200 home structure fires originating with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Holiday tree fires have yielded yearly averages of six civilian deaths, 16 serious injuries and over $15 million in property damage.
Lighting equipment and electrical distribution failures were culprit in well over half of all tree fires, according to NFPA. Trees placed too close to a heating source caused over 25 percent of fires and 80 percent of fatalities during the study period.
Death rates from tree fires are greater than blazes from other causes, the NFPA says. Statistics indicate a person dies in one out of every 32 tree-related incidents reported, compared to one out of every 143 fires from other causes. Trees can erupt into flames in less than a minute, often catching home occupants off-guard.
Most artificial trees today are advertised to be flame retardant. They’re typically manufactured from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other chemical components for fire safety.

Live trees can be sprayed with fire-resistant chemicals. These labels often create a false sense of security, as trees are never completely insusceptible, Kahm noted.
Real trees comprised the bulk of the holiday tree market with 69 percent of the total 576.3 million sold between 2004 and 2017, according to the data agency Statista.

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