Live Versus Artificial Christmas Trees: Here's What You Should Know to Lower Your Fire Risk
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Live Versus Artificial Christmas Trees: Here's What You Should Know to Lower Your Fire Risk

Each type of Christmas tree has its own fire risks, but you can keep your risks low by following some important safety tips

December 16, 2020

When choosing a Christmas tree, the biggest decision most people have to make is whether to purchase a live tree or to pull the artificial tree from the attic. While artificial trees pose fewer safety concerns than live trees, they don't really have the same look, feel, and smell as live trees. Whether you choose live or artificial, each type of tree comes with its own set of fire safety concerns.

Purchasing a Live tree that is still alive

Keeping the tree alive starts with choosing one that hasn't turned into firewood before it leaves the lot. Your best bet is to buy a tree that is still growing and cut it yourself (or have someone cut it for you). If you are buying a pre-cut tree, make sure it is still alive and healthy. Pull on the needles. If they come off easily, it's not in great shape. The trunk should be sticky and the limbs should be very flexible. Lift the tree and bounce the cut end on the ground. If a significant number of needles fall off, it isn't a safe tree to take home.

Make a fresh cut

When you get the Christmas tree home, cut off the bottom two inches of trunk. This will create a fresh cut for the tree to soak in water. If you don't do this, the trunk may not be able to pull in enough water to keep it moist.

Water, Water and More Water

Watering is essential to keeping your tree green and preventing fires. Keep the water in the stand well above the fresh-cut bottom of the trunk. There is no need to put more than water in the tree stand. The tree isn't picky about flavor, caffeine or sugar. Plain water is the best for Christmas trees.

Artificial isn't necessarily better

Even though real trees pose the bigger fire threat, artificial trees are also vulnerable. It's easy for any tree, real or artificial, to catch fire when decorators overload electrical sockets with lights. Even flame retardant or flame resistant artificial trees can eventually succumb to a fire as their resistance wears off when completely consumed in flames. By following the instructions on light packaging, you can determine how many light strings you can safely connect.

Pre-lit Artificial Trees

Pre-lit artificial trees have been recalled before, so make sure you're tree hasn't been recalled before using it. Even if not recalled, pre-lit artificial trees can pose electrical shock hazards and fire risks from exposed wiring, wiring that is too short, or cords that aren't plugged in completely.

Disposal of Live Trees

The longer it sits after the holidays, the drier your tree gets and the higher your fire risk becomes. Never dispose of your tree by burning it. A burning tree is hard to control and may burn much faster than you expect. Burning tree clippings in a fireplace can result in a chimney fire. Pine and fir trees also produce a lot of creosote when burning, which can lead to deposits on the chimney that can cause fires later.

If you don't live in an area where you can dispose of your tree naturally, most cities and towns will collect Christmas trees curbside on designated days. Check with your local municipality for Christmas tree disposal instructions specific to where you live.