The Beautiful Danger of Real Christmas Trees


“Freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night.” – John Geddes, A Familiar Rain

Few treasures and traditions of the season say Christmas better than enjoying a live Christmas tree in the living room.

Sipping egg nog by the fire and wrapping and placing presents under an authentic Christmas tree is the stuff Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra Christmas classics are made of. Millions of American families celebrate the holidays the old-fashioned way with a live Christmas evergreen. A beautiful, recyclable, environmentally friendly holiday tradition, Christmas trees absorb carbon dioxide, stabilize soil, protect water supplies, emit fresh oxygen and fuel a vibrant American industry that employs more than 100,000 people (there are an estimated 15,000 Christmas tree growers in the U.S.).

Alas, one of the most beautiful images of the holiday season can also be one of the most dangerous hazards of the season for your home and family.

Bad Christmas tree happenings just don’t hit poor Clark Griswold. According to National Fire Protection Association reports, U.S. Fire departments respond to hundreds of home structure fires annually that begin with Christmas trees. The United States Fire Administration estimates that fires occurring during the holiday season injure more than 2,600 individuals and cause close to $1 billion in damage.The American Christmas Tree Association reports that Christmas trees alone produce $13 million in property damages annually.

The common culprits, or grinches, behind most Christmas tree fires: Electrical failures or malfunctions (which account for nearly half of seasonal fires), heat sources located too close to the tree (the source of 25 percent of fires) and decorative lights with live voltage (the root of more than 20 percent of fires).

Live Christmas trees are ready-made kindling for house fires. Video from the National Institute of Standards and Technology demonstrates that it only takes five seconds for a live tree that’s dried out to become fully engulfed in flames and just 30 seconds for the entire room to fill with smoke.

So how can families prevent their cherished symbol of Christmas from becoming a holiday dream killer? By following these smart Christmas tree safety measures:

  1. Pick A Vibrant Tree: Fresh trees are less likely to catch fire, so pick out a tree with vibrant green needles that are hard to pluck and don’t break easy from their branches. Beware of trees that shed needles readily.
  2. Don’t Let Your Tree Be Kindling: Be sure to place your tree a safe distance from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, holiday candles, heat vents and lights.
  3. Feed Your Tree High Quality H20: Just like flowers and plants, live Christmas trees need water to thrive during the season. Dry Christmas trees are oxygen for fires. Be sure to keep your tree base filled with water to avoid a dry out.
  4. Make Sure Your Lights Are Santa and Elf-Approved: Ensure all your home and tree’s indoor and outdoor Christmas lights have been tested in a lab by the UL or ETL/ITSNA for safety, and throw out any damaged lights. Also make sure your light strings are free of frayed wires.
  5. Don’t Celebrate Christmas Til MLK Day: Forget the 12 days of Christmas, the NFPA recommends that even well-watered trees should be taken down, discarded and recycled after four weeks. The longer you keep your tree up past December 25, the greater the chance it could become an unintentional home fire starter. The NFPA suggests taking live Christmas trees down the week after Christmas instead of the traditional New Year’s Day.

Your evergreen will give you a telling visible sign when it’s time to say goodbye: Dropping needles. When you notice your Christmas tree shedding needles in mass, it’s time to say to a sweet farewell to your tree.

Like Santa, live Christmas trees come and go fast, but leave families, and especially children, with a lifetime of holiday memories. Just be sure your family’s and home’s Christmas tree celebrations and memories are fire-free this season, because no one wants to be poor Clark Griswold at Christmas.

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