11 Ways to Prevent Christmas Tree, Holiday Decoration Fires

A dry tree can burn faster than newspaper, according to the National Fire Protection Association

Christmas trees and other holiday decorations are an annual tradition for many, but misuse and neglect can lead to deadly consequences.

Fire departments across the country respond to hundreds of fires during the holiday season each year.  

One in every 31 Christmas tree fires is deadly, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The association says electrical failures and malfunctions caused 30 percent of Christmas tree fires.

Two Maryland women were killed in 2015 when a tangled extension cord connected to Christmas lights started a fire in Frederick County. The county's Fire Marshal's Office said investigators found an extension cord that fed interior Christmas lights was stuck beneath a reclining chair. The extension cord failed and ignited the underside of the chair.

Dry Christmas trees can also be a major source of fuel in a fire, according to a report by the NFPA. The NFPA says a dry tree can burn faster than newspaper.

In January 2015, a 15-foot, aging and dry Christmas tree fueled a massive mansion fire that killed a Maryland couple and four of their young grandchildren.

The family had planned to remove the tree from the house the day after the fire. Instead, wiring beneath the dried-out tree fueled a fire that spread so quickly the family couldn't escape.

The NFPA and several fire departments in the D.C. area recommend the following safety tips: 

  • Make sure string lights have no loose connections, cracked lamps or frayed cords.
  • Use only a single extension cord that can reach your home's outlet without being too long and being tangled.
  • Use UL-approved lights and cords.
  • Make sure lights are off when you go out and before you turn in for the night.
  • Make sure all outdoor light connectors are away from metal rain gutters and off the ground.
  • Never use candles to light or decorate a tree.
  • To lessen the chance of a fire hazard, purchase a freshly cut tree.
  • Make sure to keep your tree at least three feet away from any heat source.
  • Water the tree every day, and remove it from your home after Christmas or once it becomes dry. 
  • Don't burn Christmas tree branches or wrapping paper in your fireplace.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that could burn. 

Christmas trees aren't the only item you'll need to be careful with. D.C. police said two out of every five home decoration fires are started by candles. The four most common days for candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, police said. 

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