HARTFORD, CT (December 9, 2020) – Given an increased number of people opting for live Christmas trees this year - and many folks putting those trees up early in an effort to add a little joy to a season otherwise clouded by COVID-19 - AAA and our fire safety partners are urging homeowners to take extra precautions as this ‘extended' holiday season may increase the risk of home fires.
“Getting the tree up early certainly brightens the season but there is also a greater chance that the tree will dry out as the weeks go by, making it more of a fire hazard,” says Sonia Medina, a spokesperson for AAA Insurance. “It is critical that homeowners take every precaution when putting up the tree, the lights and other decorations to minimize risk and ensure everyone’s safety.”
According to a survey from the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, more than 20% of people reported they were more likely to buy a real Christmas tree this year after having an artificial one last year or no tree at all.
And, according to the American Red Cross, December and January are the peak months for house fires.
“The Christmas season signals the start of a time of much higher risk of home fires, which all too often end in tragedy," says Alan Zygmunt, Public Information Officer for the Connecticut Fire Academy. “We want everyone to be aware of the dangers so they will take all steps necessary to celebrate the season with safely as a top priority.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association:
- Between 2013-2017, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 160 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees
- These fires caused an average of three deaths each year and $10 million in direct property damage.
- Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 44 percent of home Christmas tree fires.
- Almost 40% of home Christmas tree fires started in the living room.
- In one-quarter of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
AAA Insurance Tips for Preventing a Holiday Fire
Before the decorations go up, AAA recommends testing all the smoke alarms throughout your house.
"The holiday season is a good reminder to do this safety check or to buy smoke alarms if you don’t already have them," Medina adds.
- When choosing a tree, needles should be green and should not fall off easily when touched
- If you buy an artificial Christmas tree, be sure it is labeled as fire retardant.
- Keep your tree at least three feet from any heat source, including fireplaces, radiators, and heat vents, which could dry it out and make it more susceptible to fire.
- Check your tree stand each day to see if it is filled with enough water.
- Place your Menorah candelabra on a fireplace mantle or in a windowsill away from decorations that could catch fire.
- Remove any tablecloth from the table where you set your Kwanzaa kinara (candleholder) to prevent a fire if the candles are knocked over.
Electric Lights Safety:
- Only purchase holiday lights and electrical decorations approved by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or another recognized testing laboratory. And never use lights outside that are only designated for indoor use.
- Always turn off Christmas tree lights when you aren’t around to monitor them – such as at the end of the evening or if you’re going out.
- Before stringing holiday lights, either on the tree or as outdoor decorations, carefully examine each strand to make sure there are no frayed wires, broken or cracked sockets, or insulation gaps.
- Do not connect more than three strands of lights together. Doing so can overload electrical outlets.
- Never burn wrapping paper in a fireplace or wood stove. It is very flammable and some types may produce a chemical buildup that could create an explosion.
- Never burn a Christmas tree or its branches or needles in a fireplace or wood stove. The tree’s sap is extremely combustible and could throw sparks.
- Discard your tree when its needles start to drop off.