TFD officials urge caution to avoid tree fires

Keri Thornton | Daily Press

Tahlequah firefighter Robert Duncan finished off decorating the Christmas tree at Station 1 Thursday morning.

Fire officials are explaining how residents can protect their homes from fires caused by live Christmas trees during the holidays.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, around 160 structure fires are caused each year by Christmas trees. Lighting equipment and electrical distribution are involved in most tree fires, and 1 in 5 fires were started by decorative lights.

Tahlequah Fire Chief Casey Baker said people should choose fresh trees, and one way to tell if a tree is fresh is that the needles won’t shed when touched.

“Before placing a tree in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk and make sure the tree is at least 3 feet away from the heat source,” said Baker.

A live tree will literally go up in flames in less than five seconds and the entire room will be completely engulfed in 15 seconds.

The tree is generally set in a stand that holds the water, which keeps it hydrated and prevents it from drying out, which would make it more susceptible to fire.

“You want to make sure the tree is watered and you want to water it daily,” said Baker.

Preventive measures should be taken to ensure a safer holiday. LED Christmas lights are much safer than fluorescent lights. The older bulbs can produce just enough heat to cause sparks. The LED lights are more durable and longer-lasting.

“When you’re putting lights on the tree, use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. So lights that are only for indoor or outdoor use, and replace any string of lights that has broken cords or loose bulb connections,” said Baker.

While TFD has responded to fires caused by live trees in the past, Baker said it’s a rare occurrence in this area.

“We have run on them and typically in the wintertime, it’s some type of heating that caused the fire, whether it was a heater too close to the curtains or something like that,” said Baker.

Tahlequah Solid Waste Superintendent Chris Armstrong said the department does have a process in place for Christmas tree pickups.

“We pick them up for free the week after Christmas, and if you have it out the pick-up day after Christmas, just put it out there at the curb and we’ll get it,” said Armstrong.

Anything after the holidays will be considered a junkload, and residents will be charged for the pickup.

Baker reiterated that area residents should make sure they have working smoke detectors in place, as well as emergency family escape plans.

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