December 10, 2004  


Holiday Tree Safety

By Robert Reek

The tradition, fragrance and fun of a freshly cut tree may be an integral part of your winter holiday celebrations. This guide will help you choose and preserve a freshly cut tree for safe holiday enjoyment.

Photo by Douglas Lee

A sad truth is that Christmas tree fires in homes and businesses are a major threat to life and property during the holiday season, because a burning cut tree creates a very hot fire that rapidly can spread.

SLAC Christmas Tree Safety

The Uniform Fire Code (Section 1101.1 and Appendix IV-B) states that we can use cut Christmas trees at SLAC only if they are first treated with a flame retardant product that is approved by the California State Fire Marshal (CSFM). Using a live tree that is in a container is permitted without the flame retardant product.

If you purchase a freshly cut tree for use at SLAC, the person who applies the flame retardant must be licensed and must include a tag on your tree that states:

• Number of chemicals (assigned by CSFM)

• Certification number of applicator

• Date of treatment

If a Christmas tree catches fire, get everyone out of the building and call 9-911 (from SLAC phones) or 911 (from other phones).

General Christmas Tree Safety Tips

All common fresh-cut trees have a degree of natural flame resistance, due to their moisture content. Purchase a freshly cut tree and then preserve your cut tree’s fragrance and natural ability to resist flame by keeping the tree’s moisture content as high as possible.

Test Your Tree for Freshness Before You Buy

Before purchasing a cut tree, test it for freshness by gently grasping a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pulling the branch toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. Very few green needles should fall to the ground.

Wash the Debris from Your Tree

Wash the dead needles and dust off your tree with a spray nozzle.

Make a Fresh Cut

Before you set up your tree, make a fresh, straight cut across the base of the trunk (about a quarter inch up from the original cut). Trim the branches from the tree trunk to allow an 8- to 12-inch clearance between the tree trunk cut and the lowest branch.

Place Your Tree in a Water Bowl

Use a water bowl that can hold two to four quarts of water. Never put your tree on a wood stand unless the stand has a water bowl.

Water Your Tree Daily

An average cut tree will absorb a gallon of water or more in the first 24 hours and one or more quarts each day thereafter. Keep the water level above the tree trunk cut, because if the water drops below the base of the tree, a seal of dried sap will form over the cut stump, preventing the tree from absorbing water. If a seal does form, make another fresh cut.

Place Your Tree Away from Heat Sources

Keep your tree fresher and safer by placing it away from direct sunlight, heaters, heater vents, wood stoves, fireplaces and large appliances (such as TVs).

Light Your Tree with Safety in Mind

• Choose only decorative indoor lights (never use outdoor lights on an indoor tree).

• Choose lights that have approval from a recognized laboratory (see safety tag on the lights or box).

• Mini-lights produce less heat.

• Limit the number of lights you use because they add a constant heat source to your tree that will make it look less fresh and increase the fire hazard.

• Check your lights and extension cords for damage, and do not use cords with cracked insulation or broken or empty sockets.

• Unplug your lights before you go to bed or leave the house.

• Never overload electrical circuits.

Dispose of Your Tree Properly

Never burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace. Heat produced by a burning Christmas tree can be extremely dangerous. Contact your local disposal service company for proper disposal options.

Contact: Robert Reek, SLAC Fire Marshal, Ext. 4509, 



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Last update Wednesday December 08, 2004 by Emily Ball