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A Holiday Tragedy: Christmas Tree Fire Destroys Home

Some basic safety tips can help you keep your home safe during the holidays.

Every holiday season it just seems like a matter time before a headline reads: "Home Destroyed By Christmas Tree Fire."

That headline is appearing today in Montclair, NJ, where a Christmas tree fire is being blamed for the destruction of a home. Fortunately, the family got out of the home safely in the case. However, the home is reported to be a complete loss.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says Christmas tree and candle fires were responsible for about $18 million in damage across the U.S. from 2006 to 2008.

Here are some tips to get you through the holiday season safely:

Christmas Trees

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), Christmas tree fires are not common, but when they occur, they are likely to be serious. When choosing a tree, they recommend one with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. Once home they offer the following tips:

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1–2” from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Rockland County Fire and Emergency Services Director Gordon Wren Jr. said many families forget that Christmas trees should be kept in water. He notes that families new to the United States, who may be putting up their first Christmas tree, often don't realize they should be watering the tree.

In case of a fire, dial 911.

Fireplaces

The US Fire Safety Administration (USFA) cautions that wrapping paper in the fireplace can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers that may result in a chimney fire. A fireplace should not be left unattended and must be extinguished before retiring for the evening or leaving home. 

Holiday Lights and Decorations

According to the USFA, all decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents. If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.

  • Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. 
  • Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. 
  • Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.
  • Never leave lights on unattended.

Candles

The National Candle Association reports that more than 15,000 candle fires are reported annually and the most common causes are inattention and misuse.

As with fireplaces, burning candles should never be left unattended. And similarly to Christmas trees, they should not be placed near anything flammable. Consumers should also always use a candleholder, which is heta resistant. 

Year-Round Safety

Regardless of the season, having a fire extinguisher is an important home-safety accessory. Also, it's always a good idea to have a working smoke detector and change the batteries at least once a year.

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