- Department of Fire Services
Media Contact for State Fire Marshal Issues Holiday Decorating Safety Tips
Jennifer Mieth, Public Information Officer
STOW — “We can all use some holiday cheer,” said State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, “but keep fire safety in mind as you get ready for the holidays. If you are putting up your Christmas tree this weekend, select a fresh one.”
- Selecting a Tree: When purchasing a tree, buy one that is as fresh as possible. Tap the butt on the ground, grab a branch near the top, and pull your hand along it slowly. Needles should not fall off. If you bend a needle and it breaks before bending in half, it is too dry! If you use an artificial tree, select one with a flame retardant label.
On January 3, 2020 at 4:30 p.m., the Westfield Fire Department responded to a Christmas tree fire in a single-family home. The fire began in the living room. No one was injured. The home did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $160,000.
“Place your tree carefully so it doesn’t block any exits you might need in an emergency,” State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said. “Although there are not a lot Christmas tree fires, they are very serious when they do happen. The best way to prevent a Christmas tree fire is to water it well every day,” said Ostroskey. “Santa may be able to escape up the chimney, but you’ll need two clear pathways out of each room,” he added.
- Placing a Tree: Make sure you do not block your second way out of a room in case of emergency. Keep the path clear to windows, the porch door or another door you do not often use in the winter. Place your tree and decorations away from heaters, fireplaces, candles, and other sources of heat.
On January 6, 2020 at 9:59 p.m., the Belmont Fire Department responded to a Christmas tree fire in a single-family home. The fire began in the living room where a nearby candle ignited an extremely dry tree. Smoke alarms operated and no one was injured. The home did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated at $2,500.
The U.S. Fire Administration says that one-quarter of Christmas tree fires start when the tree is placed too close to a heat source such as a fireplace, woodstove, radiator or space heater.
- Caring for the Tree: Make a fresh cut an inch or two off the bottom before placing it in the stand. This will help it absorb water better. Water a live tree every day. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, one-fourth of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems
- Decorating the Tree: Purchase electric holiday lights that are listed by an approved testing agency and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Consider switching to newer LED lights that are cooler and use less electricity. Before using older lights, inspect them for frayed wires or other defects. Make sure the bulbs themselves are not touching the tree, curtains, wrapped gifts, or tree skirts. Never use lighted candles as decorations on a tree.
- Turn Off the Lights: Turn off the lights when leaving the house or going to bed for the night. Consider using a timer so you will not forget.
The U. S. Fire Administration website has a stunning video from the National Institute of Standards and Training (NIST) illustrating how a dry Christmas tree can act like a blowtorch in your living room and the National Fire Protection Association has side-by-side video showing a dry Christmas tree on fire and a well-watered Christmas tree on fire. The fire in a well–watered tree takes much longer to progress.
- Disposing of the Tree: Remove your tree soon after the holidays and take advantage of the community curbside pick-up, if available, community bon fires, or recycling programs.
In the winter holiday season of 2019-2020, there were five reported Christmas tree fires. Two were outside arson fires of discarded trees, one was in a restaurant, and two were in homes.
The State Fire Marshal offers these tips for safe use of outdoor lights:
- Be sure to use only lights rated for outdoor use.
- Consider replacing older outdoor lights with newer LED lights that are ‘greener’ and cooler.
- Securely anchor outdoor lights and decorations against the wind and storms with insulated holders or hooks.
- Use electrical connection protectors to keep water out.
- All outdoor electrical decorations should be plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). You can buy portable units for outdoor use, or you can have them permanently installed by an electrician.
- Do not overload circuits. 15 amp circuits support 1,800 watts and 20 amp circuits support 2,400 watts.
- Do not drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation; this can cause a fire.
- Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life.
Smoke and CO Alarms
Ostroskey said, “No one thinks they will experience a fire, but sadly so many do over the holidays. Be sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in good working order and review your home escape plan with family and guests.” For more information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9-NO FIRE or on-line at www.mass.gov/service-details/winter-holiday-fire-safety.