Caring, Decorating and Disposing of your Christmas Tree

During the holiday season, Christmas trees, both natural and artificial, ignited an estimated average of 250 home fires each holiday season from 2003 through 2007. These fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association, caused an estimated average of 14 civilian deaths, 26 civilian injuries and $13.8 million in direct property damage each year.

Christmas trees are an important part of the holiday tradition, but because the trees available in Hawaii are much drier than those on the mainland due to the time involved in shipping, we need to exercise greater care. The Honolulu Fire Department recommends the following fire safety tips to help keep your holidays safe:

Caring for Your Christmas tree:

  • A fresh tree should not lose green needles when tapped on the ground. Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch.
  • Leave the tree outside until ready to decorate. Cut one inch off the bottom of the trunk, which will allow the tree to absorb water.
  • Clean the tree stand to improve the tree's water intake. Use one capful of bleach to one cup of water. The tree stand should hold at least one gallon of water and be the proper size for the tree base to prevent tipping.
  • Check the water level every day. A six-foot tree will use a half-gallon of water every day. Mix a commercial preservative into the water.

Decorating Your Tree:

  • Consider using miniature lights, which have cool-burning bulbs.
  • Be sure to guard against blocking exit doors with your Christmas tree or decorations that could interfere with being able to escape in the event of a fire.
  • Before decorating the tree, the first step should be to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions concerning the installation and maintenance of the electrical decorations. Use only lights that are listed by an approved testing laboratory, such as UL or FM. Use the correct lights for indoor and outdoor use (most light sets are designated for one or the other, but not both).
  • Before plugging in new or used electrical decorations, carefully inspect them for cracked sockets; frayed, loose, or bare wires; and loose connections, which may cause a serious electrical shock or start a fire.
  • Always unplug electrical decorations before replacing light bulbs or fuses.
  • Check the manufacturer's instructions on the electrical decorations to determine the maximum number of decorative lights (light strings) and decorations that may be connected together. If the product packaging does not indicate the number of light strings that may be connected together, practice this rule: Do not connect more than three light strings together.
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant". Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does mean the tree is more resistant to burning.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights and a person touching a branch can be electrocuted.

Disposing of Your Tree:

Never experiment with burning your tree. You cannot control the fire. A dry Christmas tree can be completely consumed in 7-10 seconds with flames as high as 30 feet.

The best way to dispose of your tree is to take it to a recycling center. Dried trees are extremely flammable and should not be left in a house or garage or placed against the house.

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