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
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
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
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
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
• 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,