We wanted to share a few holiday safety ideas with you in hopes that we might somehow help to insure a safe and joyous holiday season for you and those you love. You know, last year over 30 people died as a result of Christmas tree fires. And although statistics are sketchy, it is estimated that another 1500 people lost their lives to faulty heating systems that caused fires or asphyxiated unwary home-dwellers (carbon monoxide poisoning). This week’s offering includes safety tips on Christmas trees, Christmas tree lights, portable heaters and fireplaces. Holiday dangers lurk among all of them.
With a Christmas tree – first and foremost – be absolutely sure that it is fresh. A fresh, moist tree is more difficult to ignite. That makes it safer. Freshness can be tested in three ways – color, touch and smell. The tree should be dark green – as the tree dries out the needles turn brown. Be sure the needles are soft and pliable – as the tree dries out they become hard and brittle. The needles should remain on the tree when it is shaken. Needles don’t begin to fall off easily until the tree begins to dry out. The tree should also have a full, fresh aroma of chlorophyll. Let your nostrils be the judge. Nothing smells as good as a fresh Christmas tree. Some folks think that “once it has been cut down” a Christmas tree no longer needs water. Wrong! To keep a tree fresh it must be kept in water. Use a tree stand that features a water bowl or trough that can be relied upon to keep the base of the tree submerged at all times. When initially place in the stand, we have actually seen a fresh tree soak up more than two quarts of water – in less than two hours. Slice an inch or two of the bottom of the trunk immediately before placing the tree in the stand. An old cut fills with pitch and becomes waterproof. Not good! Check the tree daily to make sure that the water level remains above its base.
Place the tree away from combustible sources: like the furnace, a fireplace and other sources that generate sparks and flames. And make sure that it doesn’t block hallways, stairs or exits. Remember, a tree that takes up one-third of the hallway today could take up all of it when in flames.
Timber! Also, make sure to secure your Christmas tree at the top. Toddlers, small children and exuberant pets don’t understand the physics of a toppling Christmas tree. Folks in earthquake country should be especially careful to use nylon line or fine metal wire to secure the top of the tree to adjacent walls.
Finally, when possible, try to use decorations that are non-combustible.
CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTS
A major reason for keeping your Christmas tree fresh and moist is prevent it from being ignited by Christmas tree lights. The direct result of electricity moving in wire is HEAT. Heat and a dry Christmas tree spell fire. Make sure that the lights you use are UL approved and that the wiring is not cracked or frayed. Make absolutely sure to turn lights off before bed or when the tree will be unattended. And be sure to avoid “octopus” connections that can overload a circuit.
A portable heater should always be at least three-feet away from a combustible surface – wallpaper, bedding, clothing, yes, and your Christmas tree too. And don’t forget you and your pet are also combustible. Imagine what might happen if you were to fall asleep next to a heater capable of setting you afire. Heaters are made for keeping you warm – not for drying clothes. Also, don’t leave a heater on and unattended – especially when children are around. As with Christmas tree lights a heater can be deadly when frayed, split or cracked wires are supplying the power.
Gas heaters add a dimension to the management of portable heaters. Portable LP gas heaters with self-contained fuel supplies (cabinet heaters) are prohibited from home use by the National Fire Protection Association’s safety standards. Before purchasing a kerosene heater, check with your local fire marshal to make sure such a unit is approved for use in your area. And no matter what type of fuel your particular heater uses – DON’T EVER USE A SUBSTITUTE FUEL. Finally, keep fuel stored in clearly marked approved containers and ALWAYS let your heater cool down completely before adding fuel.
To prevent a chimney fire never burn Christmas wrap (or any large amount of loose paper) and never, never, ever use the fireplace to burn your dry old Christmas tree. Furthermore, it terribly dangerous to use flammable liquids in a fireplace. Doing so can cause the fireplace to superheat and crack. There is even the chance of an explosion. Keep combustible materials away from the firebox opening and use a screen to prevent exploding embers from ruining your holidays. Most important – have your fireplace checked by a chimney sweep annually or after burning one chord of wood burned – whichever comes first.