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Avoid holiday-season fires

We received an email this week from a reader who had sent a natural holiday tree to a relative at Noble Horizons in Salisbury, with lights and decorations on it. The administration decided that to have such a tree in the senior facility was unsafe.

At this time of year, especially during the quarantine when so many elders are alone and deprived of visits from friends and family, this does seem like a hard blow on top of the many hard blows already meted out in 2020. 

But in a facility full of elderly residents, it seems prudent to take precautions that might prevent the spread of a fire that could harm dozens of people who are already at risk.

Statistically, Christmas tree fires are not all that common. But they are also not uncommon; they do occur, especially when trees are not watered and maintained. This is a good time of year to remember that there are some basic recommendations for keeping trees healthy and safe.

The National Fire Protection Association says at its website that there are about 160 fires each year that are started by Christmas trees and holiday decorations. 

In about 45% of those cases, it was electric lights that started the blaze. Twenty percent of holiday season fires start because a tree is too close to a heat source such as a radiator (which is especially likely to occur in a small room). 

Travelers Insurance has a page on its website explaining the dangers of holiday decorations and dry trees. 

John Machnicki, a Travelers Risk Control fire safety professional, says, “Christmas trees are powerful fuel sources, especially when dry. The tree becomes a fuel that burns very rapidly and gives off a lot of heat energy.” 

How much heat? Travelers estimates it as the equivalent of 40,000 100-watt light bulbs. 

The fire from a tree burns hot and fast, Machnicki warns, and quickly spreads to anything else flammable in the room, such as bedding or upholstered furniture. 

Mixed with the flames is a thick layer of hot smoke. The combination makes it unlikely anyone in the room will survive. Again, these kinds of fires are not common — but they can happen, and it makes sense to exercise a little caution. Water your tree daily. Unplug the lights before you go to bed.

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