The holiday season is a time to celebrate, eat and enjoy the glow of festive lights, especially the twinkling magic of the Christmas tree.
While having a tree can infuse the house with the spicy scents of the forest, not observing some simple safety precautions can see it become a major hazard to home safety.
For a sobering reminder of the dangers, look no further than YouTube. Search “Don’t forget to water your Christmas tree” and watch as a dry spruce ignites, virtually explodes into a raging fireball and completely fills the room with thick, black smoke, all in the space of 45 seconds.
That’s less than the length of time it takes to answer a phone call or sneak a cup of nog from the fridge.
“A room can go to flashover sometimes within 30 seconds,” says Langford Fire Rescue Asst. Chief Chris Aubrey. “Flashover is when the entire room is completely involved and you’re almost getting near the point where you can’t even leave the house safely.”
Fires involving Christmas trees aren’t common, he says, but if it happens, it’s likely that “it’ll be serious.”
The good news is it’s fairly easy to prevent the tragedy of a home fire with some simple steps provided by the Langford fire department.
When choosing a tree, pick one with fresh, green needles that don’t fall off when touched. Firmly tap the trunk on the ground once or twice; if a shower of needles falls, move on to the next tree.
Cut about two inches from the base before placing it in the tree stand. This ensures that the tree can efficiently take up water and remain hydrated.
Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, including fireplaces, radiators, heat vents, lights or candles and never place a tree in front of an exit.
Water the tree thoroughly the first few hours of placing it in the tree stand, and add water daily through the holiday to prevent it from drying out.
And when it comes time to decorate and string the lights, check that they’re designed for indoor use, with no worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections.
Newer light sets are virtually all LED style that stay quite cool, whereas the old, screw-in type generate a lot of heat. It’s wise to replace the lights if your tree is still sporting National Lampoon Christmas Vacation-style illumination.
Finally, get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it dries out. Don’t leave it in the home or garage, or lean it up against the house. There are plenty of community chipping programs, and some will even pick up the tree roadside on designated days.
Check municipal websites or crd.bc.ca closer to Christmas for more information on holiday recycling.
“Christmas trees can absolutely be safe. You just have to take the proper precautions,” Aubrey says. “We just want everyone to enjoy the season and not have a fire.”