December 7, 2020 – The search for safe holiday celebrations during the pandemic has led to early home decorating – including Christmas trees. The holiday staple have been popping up on top of cars and in windows everywhere much earlier than typically. AAA Oklahoma warns this extended display time actually increases the potential for live Christmas trees to become fire hazards. Trees may have been on display for six weeks or more by the time Christmas Day arrives.
“The first step is safely transporting and setting up a Christmas tree, said Leslie Gamble, manager, Pubic and Government Affairs for AAA Oklahoma. “Then, we urge those displaying live trees to remember to water the tree daily to avoid it drying out and becoming a fire hazard.”
Tie One On - Properly
“If not properly secured, a tree can cause vehicle damage such as scratched paint, torn door seals, distorted window frames, or even worse, it could fly off the vehicle and become a danger to other drivers,” Gamble said.
“Twine that is wrapped around trees and looped through door jambs or open windows can cause serious vehicle damage that could cost up to $1,500 to repair,” said Gamble. "Worse yet, improperly securing a Christmas tree to your vehicle could present a serious road danger if it comes loose and flies off into traffic.”
Oklahoma law makes it illegal for items transported by motorists to fall from a vehicle while on the road. Fines can range from $5 to $500, with jail as a possible punishment for repeat offenders.
AAA Oklahoma suggests these tips:
- Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck or an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed.
- Bring proper tools. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots. Bring an old blanket and gloves.
- Protect the tree - and your vehicle. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
- Point the trunk towards the front. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.
- Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. At the bottom, use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch, to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. The center and top tie downs should be installed in a similar manner.
- Give it the tug test. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.
- Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.
According to AAA research, an estimated 84 million Americans (33 percent) will purchase a real Christmas tree and of those:
- 44 percent of Americans who plan to purchase a real Christmas tree will transport the tree using unsafe methods.
- 20 percent will tie the tree to the roof of their vehicle without using a roof rack.
- 24 percent plan to place the tree in the bed of their pickup truck unsecured.
- Previous research from AAA found that road debris caused more than 200,000 crashes during a four-year period, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that between 2013-2017, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 160 home fires that started with Christmas trees each year.
- These fires caused an average of three deaths, 15 injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage annually.
- On average, one of every 52 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 135 total reported home fires.
- Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 44 percent of home Christmas tree fires.
- In one-quarter (25 percent) of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
AAA Oklahoma Insurance offers the following tips to reduce the risk of a house fire this Christmas:
- Make sure the Christmas tree is at least three feet away from any heat source (fireplace, radiator, candles, heat vents, or lights)
- Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
- Add water to your tree daily.
- Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Never use lit candles to light the tree.
- Always turn off the lights on the tree before going to bed or leaving home.