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12/21/2012 - NFPA: Don't let a Christmas tree fire ruin your holiday


Several safety measures ought to be taken when putting up Christmas trees.

While the stockings may be "hung by the chimney with care," as the song says, no holiday season is complete without the Christmas tree. But each year, whether through far too elaborate decoration schemes, improper placement or infrequent watering, a considerable number of homeowner's insurance claims are filed resulting from Christmas trees that catch fire.

According to property insurance data from the National Fire Protection Association, between 2005 and 2009, fire officials responded to an average of nearly 250 home fires during the holiday period, all of which resulted from Christmas trees that had caught fire. Not only did these cause nearly $17 million in property losses, on average, but 27 injuries transpired and 13 people each year lost their lives.

While Christmas tree fires are rare when it comes to the primary causes of structure fires, they nonetheless can be quite serious, mainly because Christmas trees are extremely flammable. The NFPA has performed a number of demonstrations, showing how a small spark can result in a huge conflagration of a fire. This may explain why one in 18 reported fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a person's serious injury or death.

Beware nearby heating sources when setting up tree
These fires occur for a variety of reasons. However, a sizeable portion of these accidents - one in every five, in fact - results because the tree was set up near a heating source, such as a radiator, space heater or fireplace, according to the NFPA. When setting up a Christmas tree, safety experts advise families to ensure there's plenty of space surrounding the tree so that it's not at risk for fire.

But these fires can also occur after the holiday is through and many of the decorations have been put away. NFPA notes that in 50% of cases, Christmas tree fires occurred in January. Fire officers say that once Christmas is over, homeowners will think little of how they dispose of their trees. Tossing a tree in a brush pile, for instance, may seem innocent enough, but if the pile is too close to a residence and a bonfire is started, the quick nature in which the flame can build may cause a neighboring structure to catch fire.

Safety experts say families can avoid these fires by watering their trees regularly, always turning the lights off when going to bed and disposing of Christmas trees properly, such as by placing it along with other trash items so that waste management can pick it up.


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