Fire chief: Play it safe by dumping old Christmas trees
by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Dec 27, 2012 | 1789 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Jolly spirits and personal belongings could go up in smoke if residents do not heed a few simple rules regarding the disposal of Christmas trees, fire officials say.

The post-holiday season is a significant time of year not just because of the New Year but because dried-out Christmas trees and faulty holiday lighting are the leading causes of home fires, according to National Fire Protection Association spokeswoman Lorraine Carli.

“As time goes by, Christmas trees continue to dry out and become increasingly flammable,” Carli said. “For trees decorated with holiday lights, the risk increases because they’re in direct contact with an electrical source.”

Christmas tree fires have a higher chance of being deadly. On average, one of every 66 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, Carli said. That compares to an average of one death for every 144 house fires in general, according to Carli.

Fire Chief Steve Hall of the Patterson and West Stanislaus County Fire Protection District fire departments said it is easy to tell if a tree is too dry and must be disposed.

“Grab your tree branches, and if the needles come off easily or the branches crunch, it’s time to get that tree out of there,” he said.

He noted that some residents put up trees right after Thanksgiving and keep them through the New Year holiday.

Some trees that are pre-cut and bought in stores or on Christmas tree lots have been without water for a few weeks before they arrive at a home, causing them to dry out quickly, he said.

Christmas tree lights also can be a problem, according to the NFPA.

From 2006 to 2010, holiday lights and other decorative lighting contributed to an annual average of 160 home fires, nine civilian deaths, 13 related injuries and $9 million in direct property damage nationally, according to Carli.

To reduce the risk of holiday light fires and keep equipment in good condition for next year, the NFPA has the following storage suggestions:

• To unplug electric decorations, use the gripping area provided on the plugs. Never pull the cord to unplug a device from electrical outlets. Doing so can harm the cord’s wire and insulation and even lead to an electrical shock or fire.

• When putting away electrical light strings, take time to inspect each for damage. Throw out light sets if they have loose connections, broken sockets or cracked or bare wires.

• Wrap each set of lights and put them in individual plastic bags, or wrap the lights around a piece of cardboard.

• Store electrical decorations in a dry place where they cannot be damaged by water or dampness. Also, keep them away from children and pets.

• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, or

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