It’s an occurrence that inevitably happens during this time of year: Someone, somewhere has their Christmas tree go up in flames.
Arcata Fire District Battalion Chief Sean Campbell offered a few practices that he implements himself to keep his tree from becoming a standing tinderbox.
“It’s important to have a fresh cut tree,” Campbell said.
For people who want real Christmas trees, Campbell said it’s important to make sure the tree isn’t drying out or dying. Signs of a drying or dying tree include needles that are curling up, turning brown, or falling off.
He said that when given a good shake, a healthy tree shouldn’t have an excessive amount of needles that fall off.
When Campbell brings his trees home, he sprays them with a fire retardant he purchased at a local nursery. After letting the retardant dry for a few hours, he brings the tree into his home.
At this point, it’s important to cut about one to two and a half inches off the bottom to allow the tree to soak up water and stay moisturized. The initial cuts made from harvesting the tree heal over and “sap over,” preventing water from being soaked in, he said.
“Immediately, give it water,” he said. “Check every morning and every night, it will consume lots of water in the beginning.”
Once the tree has been set up in a stand with adequate water supply, Campbell said to decorate. But this doesn’t mean load the tree up with candles or a ton of lights, he cautioned. Campbell said LED lights are a good choice because they produce less heat than more traditional incandescent counterparts.
Campbell recommends placing the tree in a room away from heat sources such as fireplaces, stoves or wood stoves because the heat can accelerate the tree’s rate of dehydration. Campbell goes against his own advice and keeps his tree in a room with a wood stove and said that if others find themselves in a similar situation, be sure to place it as far as possible from the heat source. Campbell’s tree is 20 feet away, he said.
Be vigilant about monitoring the amount of water available to the tree, and spray fire retardant on the tree. If your tree is showing signs of dying, such as excessive needle loss, he recommends disposing of the tree sooner than later.
When it comes to artificial trees, Campbell says there isn’t much to worry about as long as the tree is certified by Underwriters Laboratories, which ensures products are safe for consumers. The box an artificial tree is packaged in will have the UL marking on it, and Campbell said most trees available in stores are UL certified.
Campbell said it’s important to ensure to have working smoke alarms in all living spaces, such as rooms and hallways, and not to forget places like the attic.
Due to the change in materials used to manufacture common household items, house fires spread faster today than in previous eras.
“Early notification is important,” he said. “What’s most important is for everyone to get out of the house and call 911.”
It’s also important to have working fire extinguishers, which can be put to use if a fire is small enough. If not, Campbell said to get out of the house and don’t go back in.
“Be aware of overloading circuits,” Campbell said. “If you’re blowing circuits, you’re overloading them.”
If a circuit breaker is tripping, he said, don’t keep resetting it as a solution. Decorative lights come with recommendations on how many can be plugged into a single receptacle. Campbell advised following the recommendations.
If you go to cut your own tree down:
Peggi Lawrence, the spokesperson at the Six Rivers National Forest headquarters in Eureka, said there are a few things to keep in mind for those who plan on venturing out to cut their own tree.
The first is that a permit is required, and can be purchased at the Eureka office for $10. The office is extending hours as a public service and will be open Thursdays and Fridays until 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Before you head out, she said, let someone know where you’re going.
“People should make sure they have someone in town that knows where they’re going,” she said.
She also said to dress in layers. Campbell added that people should have supplies like a shovel, snow chains, and enough food and water to spend the night, as vehicles often get stuck on one-way roads, meaning the cars behind them are trapped as well.
What was meant to be a fun outing, she said, can quickly turn sideways.