There’s nothing that says “Christmas” more than a live Christmas tree with all the tinsel and trimmings in your living room. There’s also nothing that says “fire danger” more than a dried out tree that can easily catch a spark from a nearby candle.
The needles and branches on a Christmas tree give the tree a lot of surface area. Try to catch a 2×4 on fire and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Try to catch a pine needle or several pine needles on fire and they immediately ignite. Each needle has a lot of surface area to catch fire and burn. Each needle also allows for a lot of oxygen in nooks and crannies to help ignite and feed a fire.
Proper Care and Feeding of Live Trees
Once you have returned safely home with your Christmas tree, its continued freshness depends upon the type of care you provide. The tree should have a fresh cut across the bottom, about one-inch above the old base. This removes any clogged wood that may not readily absorb water. Next, the tree should be placed in a stand with a large reservoir of water. Depending upon the size, species, and location of the tree, it may absorb a gallon of water in the first day, so it should be checked frequently and re-watered as necessary.
Although some people advocate for placing various substances in the water to preserve freshness, it is recommended that consumers simply keep the tree well-watered with pure tap water. Avoid putting compounds such as sugar, aspirin, and other chemicals into the water. These have not been proven to work and often can inhibit the tree’s intake of water and actually cause it to be more of a hazard.
As long as the tree is able to absorb and transpire water, it is reasonably fire-resistant. It is important that the tree always be kept watered and not be allowed to dry out. If the tree does become dried out, it may not be able to absorb moisture adequately once it is re-watered, and it will shed its needles prematurely. Taking the tree down and cutting approximately one-inch off the bottom of the trunk, then replacing the tree in the stand and re-watering, may remedy this problem. Although inconvenient, it is the only way to prevent early needle loss. Overall, a good rule of thumb is to treat a green Christmas tree just like a fresh bouquet of cut flowers.
The Christmas tree should be located in a safe place, preferably near a wall or corner where it is not likely to be knocked over. Keeping the tree away from heat sources such as hot air ducts, wood stoves, fireplaces, etc., will help to preserve freshness and lessen fire danger. Similarly, light cords and connections used in decorating the tree should be in good working condition. Lights should always be turned off at bedtime or when leaving for an extended period of time.
Fresh, well-watered Christmas trees do not present a fire hazard. Trees that are dried out, however, do. In public buildings it is often advisable to spray Christmas trees with a fire retardant. In fact, in many locations this is necessary for insurance purposes. In the home, however, the best fire retardant is to keep the tree supplied with plenty of water.
A special thanks to the Sheridan Fire Department from Sheridan, Colorado for staging this demonstration. Information Source: Martha Jacoby / Placer County Public Information Office.