Holidays: 10 Tips for Christmas Tree Safety

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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It's that festive holiday time of year again, bright shiny ornaments, loads of lights twinkling on the Christmas tree, and lights and decorations on the house and in the yard.

But, did you know Christmas trees are involved in about 210 residential fires annually, resulting in an average of 6 deaths, 16 injuries and about $16.2 million in property damage and loss? To prevent tragedy from happening in your home, take the following tips to safely choosing and caring for your Christmas tree.

  1. If you prefer a natural tree, choose one that is as fresh as possible. Freshly-cut trees pose less of a fire hazard than those which have begun to dry out. Signs of a fresh tree include flexible needles that bend but not break and a trunk that contains sap.
  2. Never place a tree near fireplaces or other heat sources. Even a television can be a drying heat source for a natural tree. Do not use lighted candles on or near the Christmas tree.
  3. Fresh trees should be used in a stand containing a water reservoir. Keep the stand filled with water to avoid drying of the tree. Your tree stand should also be large and sturdy enough to prevent accidental toppling of the tree by pets or children.
  4. Do not place breakable tree ornaments or those with small, removable parts near the bottom of the trees where they can pose a choking hazard for babies or small children.
  5. Use safe, low-energy lighting on your tree. Be sure that your lights have been certified by a safety testing laboratory (for example, Underwriters Laboratory, or UL). Replace your lights if any of the cords are damaged or frayed. Always turn off lights before going to bed or leaving the house.
  6. Never overload extension cords by attaching more than three strings of lights to one cord. Place extension cords along walls to avoid trips and falls, but don't run them under carpets or rugs.
  7. If you're purchasing an artificial tree, buy one that is flame-resistant. If it contains a built-in light set, look for the seal of an approved safety testing laboratory.
  8. Never use electric lights on a metal tree. If the lights are defective, they can charge the tree with electricity, possibly resulting in severe injury or even electrocution.
  9. Keep a fire extinguisher handy at all times and be sure everyone knows where it is located.
  10. Finally, when the tree becomes dry, dispose of it properly. Don't leave a dry tree in your house or garage.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care

REFERENCES: CPSC Gives Consumers a Holiday Home Decorating Safety Guide; Top Tips to Prevent Holiday Decorating-Related Fires and Injuries.

National Safety Council. Christmas Tree Tips.

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Reviewed on 3/31/2017

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