A Christmas tree is an important part of Christmas celebrations in many homes, workplaces and other commercial settings. It symbolizes the cheerfulness and positivity that comes with the season. However, behind the beautiful ambiance of the tree and its dazzling decorations (lights, ornaments, garlands, tinsel, etc.) looms the risk of fire, especially if caution is not exercised.
Christmas tree fires are not common, but they can be extremely destructive, even fatal, whenever they break out. For instance, a dry tree can be up in flames within 25 seconds of ignition, and the entire room can be engulfed in an inferno after just one minute of the breakout. This makes it increasingly difficult for people to escape uninjured compared to other home fires, which explains the higher fatality rate in Christmas tree fire accidents.
Whenever you install a Christmas tree in your home or business premises, it’s crucial to take the necessary safety precautions to avoid mishaps. If you’re planning to set up a Christmas tree this festive season, continue reading for tips and more information about Christmas tree fire accidents.
Statistics on Christmas Tree Fires
Christmas tree fire incidents are not common, though they’re far more destructive than other property fires. According to the U.S. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Christmas trees cause about 160 fires each year, resulting in more than $10 million in average property damage.
Almost half of the fires are caused by an electrical problem. Lighting candles on the tree and placing the tree near a heat source are some other common causes behind a significant number of the reported Christmas tree fire incidents.
Dried natural trees or synthetic ones made from non-fire-resistant materials are highly combustible. Once engulfed in flames, they quickly burst into an inferno igniting other items (gifts under the tree, curtains, couch, etc.) in the room. According to the NFPA statistics, 1 death occurs in every 52 Christmas tree fire accidents reported annually. This is much higher than the death rate of other property fires, which is 1 in every 135 reported incidents.
An estimated 43% of Christmas tree fire accidents happen in December, while the rest are reported during the rest of the year. Keeping the tree past the festive season increases the danger of fire, especially once the tree dries up. Statistics show that almost a third of the reported fires (31%) occur in January, while 26% break out from February to November.
Common Causes of Christmas Tree Fires
A Christmas tree fire can breakout from various causes, including:
- Loosely connected decorative lights
- Frayed cords
- Damaged plugs
- Cracked bulbs
- Decorative candles
- Heating equipment
- Close heat source
- Open or outdoor fires
- Arson activity
According to reports, electrical issues are responsible for about 31% of Christmas tree fires, candles cause about 7%, close heat sources start about 22% of the fires, heating equipment is responsible for 13% of the incidents, and open and outdoor fires ignite 7%, while 15% are started intentionally.
Injuries Caused by Christmas Tree Fires
Christmas tree fires spread rapidly, filling the room with heat and smoke. Hence, it’s more injurious if a person is caught up in the inferno. Common injuries include:
- Respiratory damage – Inhaling the toxic gasses (carbon dioxide, polyurethane) released by the burning materials can cause serious respiratory damage
- Burn injuries – You can sustain first, second, third, or fourth-degree burns, depending on the depth of tissue damage. While first-degree burns can heal within a few days, fourth-degree burns cause extensive damage and can be life-threatening.
Safety Tips to Prevent Fire Incidents
Due to the heightened risk of fire, handling a Christmas tree requires strict safeguards to guarantee incident-free use. Here are some precautions to keep in mind and stay safe.
- Choose a freshly-cut tree
Only buy a freshly cut tree, so it stays green longer. To know a fresh tree, the needles should be green and not drop upon touch. However, once you get home, you should water the tree immediately and continue watering it daily, ensuring the water level remains above the cut.
- Use approved lights
Ensure you use decorating lights that have been tested by an approved testing laboratory to guarantee their safety. Also, use the lights for their recommended application. For instance, indoor lights should be used indoors only and vice versa.
- Inspect the lights and decorations
Before using the lights and decorations, whether new or old, lay out the strings and inspect for missing lights or any damage that could ignite a fire. If the cords are frayed or broken, discard them and get a replacement.
- Stick to the maximum recommended strands
Remember to check the instructions for the maximum strands you can string together and stick to the limit. Usually, you should only connect up to three strands for push-in bulbs or, at most, 50 light sets for screw-in bulbs. Otherwise, exceeding the limit can cause overheating, increasing the risk of fire.
- Unplug the lights
Even if you believe your tree poses no danger whatsoever – it’s a well-watered tree with no signs of drying, or a tested fire-retardant artificial tree, you cannot be sure it’s 100% safe, especially when there’s no one around to detect any mishaps. Hence, you should always unplug the lights before going to bed and when leaving home.
- Artificial trees should be fire-retardant
If you’re buying an artificial tree, ensure it’s labeled fire-retardant. While an artificial tree is considered safer than a natural tree, it only minimizes the risk if it’s fire-resistant.
- Choose a perfect spot
Place the tree away from windows and doorways. Also, maintain a distance (at least three feet) between the tree and any heat source (fireplaces, candles, lights, heat vents, etc.) that may release sparks and ignite a fire.
- Get rid of the tree after the celebration
Once Christmas is over, take off the lights safely, store them, and remove the tree from the room. If it’s a natural tree, check whether there are recycling programs in your community and take it for recycling. If it’s an artificial tree, ensure you store it safely in its designated stand away from locations where it can be knocked down.
- Do not decorate with candles
Avoid decorating the tree using candles. Keep any candles at least three meters from the tree. Also, avoid using combustible ornaments that can add fuel to the tree in the event of ignition.
- Keep kids and pets off the tree
Kids are drawn to Christmas trees. Don’t allow them to play with it as any damage to the lights or the electrical connections can increase the risk of fire. Also, keep off pets as they can chew or paw on the cords and lights, causing perilous damage.
- Avoid electric lights on a metal tree
If you opt for a metal Christmas tree, avoid using electric lights. Faulty lights can charge the tree with electricity, causing electrocution if someone touches it.
- Test smoke alarm
The smoke alarm can come in handy in preventing a potentially disastrous situation. A timely alert can trigger a prompt response before the fire turns into an uncontrollable inferno. Ensure you test your smoke alarm to confirm it’s functional should you flop in any of the safeguards.
Best Types of Christmas Trees and Lights
The three main categories of Christmas trees are freshly cut, balled & burlapped, and artificial. Your choice may depend on your situation and budget. However, which is the best?
Each can be ideal (in terms of safety) depending on various factors. For instance, if you continue watering the freshly cut or the balled & burlapped to keep them green, you’ll have drastically minimized the risk of fire. On the other hand, a fire-retardant synthetic tree also has a reduced risk of catching fire.
When it comes to choosing lights, LED ones are the safest. They produce less heat than other Christmas lights and hence have a lesser risk of starting a fire. You can opt for the LED lights with epoxy lenses, but ensure they’re tested by an approved testing laboratory such as Underwriter’s Laboratory or Intertek.
What to Do After a Christmas Tree Fire Accident
If your Christmas tree catches fire, the first step is to get everyone to a safe location and then call 911 for help. Sometimes the fire might be non-threatening, especially if the tree is not in flames. If there’s a chance of putting the fire out with an extinguisher, do that promptly, but ensure the exit door is accessible and open.
Otherwise, if it’s one of those rapid fires that breaks into an inferno within seconds, exit the room immediately to a safe location and call 911. If anyone has sustained physical injuries or inhaled the fumes, seek medical attention promptly.
Most homeowners insurance provides coverage over fire damage. Once you confirm the coverage limits for your policy, you can file the necessary claim. Also, consider consulting a lawyer immediately to advise you on how to navigate the compensation process. Look for an attorney experienced in representing clients in property fire claims, as they’re more conversant with the relevant laws and can help you negotiate a fair settlement.
Implement the Above Safety Tips and Stay Safe
Christmas trees are a long-established tradition that brighten many homes and businesses during Christmas festivities, but their risk of causing destructive fires cannot be ignored. Hence, exercising caution when handling the trees is a crucial safety measure.
If you’re planning to set up a Christmas tree, remember to prioritize safety by implementing the tips we have shared. If you have been involved in a Christmas tree fire accident and are in the process of seeking compensation, talk to us and let us help you explore your legal options.