Tree and Decoration Safety

Christmas trees are involved in more than 300 fires annually, and result in dozens of injuries and deaths every Christmas. It's so busy over the holidays, sometimes it's easy to neglect what should really be at the top of our wish lists, our safety. So, one organization is sending out a special message: the holiday season should be happy not hazardous.

If a dry Christmas tree is sparked, it takes just seconds for an entire room to be consumed in flames. So while you're out browsing for that perfect pine, keep a few things in mind starting with safety.

"When you buy a tree, make sure it's fresh and green, that the needles are pliable and won't pull out easily from the tree," advised Hal Stratton, chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

He explains needles that don't bend are the sign of a dry tree. Another way to check for freshness: tap the trunk on the ground. If too many needles fall, you may need to keep looking. Also check out the bottom of the trunk. Be sure to cut about one inch off the bottom. This way, the water you put in the stand can be absorbed thoroughly.

And, don't forget about the every Christmas tree's companion: holiday lights. They can be a great addition to any home, but they can be unsafe and cause fires. Make sure your holiday lights have been tested by a lab such as UL to meet safety standards. And also check for frayed wires and cracked sockets. Following all these tips may seem tedious, but it's the best way to make sure your Christmas is a merry one.

For those of who have artificial trees, look for a label either on the tree or on the box that says fire resistant. Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does mean it will resist fire and should extinguish quickly.

For more safety tips,

CPSC suggests following these tips to make your holiday a safe one.


  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.

  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break when bent between your fingers. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.

  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.


  • Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, which indicates conformance with safety standards. Use only lights that have fused plugs.

  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.

  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord. Make sure the extension cord is rated for the intended use.

  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.

  • Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles into older homes.

  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).

  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.

  • Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights – they could unravel and inadvertently wrap around power lines.

  • Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.


  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.

  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.

  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.

  • Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair."

  • Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays.


  • Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.

  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

Get a free brochure with more holiday decorating safety tips at CPSC’s website.

Reported by: Dmitra Denmark,