It’s one of the most magical of sights: a lush green Christmas tree set aglow with a display of twinkling Christmas lights. It’s a sight that inspires joy and anticipation in children. And for those of us who have left childhood far behind, an elegantly lit Christmas tree stirs up lots of magical memories.
But for some unfortunate souls every year, a lit-up Christmas tree unexpectedly morphs from magical to nightmarish.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, Christmas trees have been responsible for starting an average of 130 home fires annually over the past several years. Those fires killed or injured 25 people per year, and caused an average of more than $17 million in damages annually.
That’s not really surprising. After all, few household items are more flammable than a tinder-dry Christmas tree. A Christmas tree can be a tragedy just waiting to happen, requiring nothing more than a spark to instantly transform the best of times into the worst of times.
And the most common source of that spark? Christmas tree lights.
Avoiding That Spark…
For the most part, Christmas lights are pretty safe these days. Unlike the once common practice of lighting trees with candles, modern Christmas lights pose very little risk.
And you can reduce that risk even more by just observing a few simple precautions:
- Don’t let your tree dry out. A well-watered tree is reluctant to burn. A dried out tree is very eager to burn. So it’s important that you assure that your tree always has plenty of water, and that the water reservoir never runs dry. But providing water to your tree will be only so effective. Time will eventually render your tree a dried-out tinderbox, regardless of how religiously you keep it watered. Don’t tempt fate by clinging to the holiday season too long with a dried-out tree. If your tree is shedding needles it’s time to discard it – no matter what the calendar says.
- Inspect lights carefully. Perform a visual check of each light string before installing it on your tree. You want to be sure that there are no breaks or cracks in the insulation, and that all the fittings and connections are tight and secure. Also verify that none of the light sockets are broken or cracked.
- Replacement bulbs should match originals. Plug in each light string before installing it on the tree, and check for burnt-out or broken bulbs. If any bulbs need replacing, be sure that the replacement bulbs match the wattage rating of the original bulbs.
- Careful with those extension cords. If you need to use an extension cord for your Christmas tree lights, be sure that the cord is properly rated for the job and that it’s in good condition. After your lights have been on for a while, touch-test the cord: if it’s hot to the touch, it’s overloaded.
- Lights out at bedtime. Turn your Christmas tree lights off at bedtime, same as you turn all your other lights off at that time. Turn them off when you leave home, too.
- Metallic tree? If you happen to have a metallic artificial tree, don’t decorate it with electric light sets. Hanging electric lights on a metallic tree could result in electrocution!
Christmas lights aren’t the only source of risk for your tree. So it’s important that you select a site for your tree that is far from any obvious sources of heat, such as fireplaces and radiators. And keep candles far away from your tree.
Once upon a time, candles were used to light Christmas trees. That was dangerous! Modern Christmas lights are much safer. Just exercise a bit of common sense, observe the precautions above, and have a safe and enjoyable holiday season – one that’s memorable for all the right reasons.