Tasha Crouse, an employee at Kenai River Nursery, explains how to determine if a Christmas tree is fresh. "The trunk should be sappy to the touch. If it's sappy it can suck water into the tree, and it will suck it down daily," she said. Fresh trees are less likely to catch fire than dying, dry trees.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
The holiday season is a time for sharing, and the Kenai Fire Department is hoping that sharing fire safety tips may help prevent Kenai Peninsula residents from experiencing what it feels like to watch their home go up in flames.
“It does happen and it can be both financially and emotionally devastating,” said Capt. Eric Wilcox of the Kenai Fire Department.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), fires occur each year during the holiday season, injuring an average of 2,600 people and causing more than $930 million in damages.
However, there are many steps that can be taken to ensure a safe holiday season.
“It’s important to be safe with candles,” Wilcox said, adding the fire department already has responded to a few fires this year that were started by candles.
“Never light candles and then leave the room or the house, and by all means, don’t put a candle in a tree,” Wilcox said.
Candles also should be away from anything flammable, be in stable holders and placed where they cannot easily be knocked down, according to the USFA.
Wilcox also recommended exercising caution while using ladders in icy conditions to hang holiday lights, and paying close attention to the condition of the lights themselves.
“If using the same lights year after year, inspect them,” he said.
He explained to look for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation and broken or cracked sockets. Any that are damaged should be discarded.
It also is important to make certain lights used outdoors are for outdoor use, and when hanging them to utilize either hardware hooks or insulated staples, rather than nailing or tacking the wires directly.
“Also, don’t overload electrical outlets by linking too many light strands and overloading it. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for what is safe, and don’t exceed that,” Wilcox said.
The USFA recommends connecting strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into an outlet, and like candles, lights should not be left on when going to sleep or leaving home.
Wilcox said fire safety should be extended to those who put up Christmas trees, whether real or artificial.
“Trees, like all holiday decorations, should be away from heat sources like woodstoves, fireplaces or forced air heaters. These will all dry out a tree,” he said.
Once dry, they are more susceptible to heat, flame or sparks.
If purchasing an artificial tree, look for the “fire resistant” label, which indicates the tree will resist burning, although Wilcox was quick to point out, “This label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire.”
If opting for a live tree, make sure it is fresh and green.
Tasha Crouse, an employee at Kenai River Nursery, said this isn’t difficult to do.
She said fresh trees are identified by pulling back on the branches or bouncing the tree trunk on the ground to ensure needles don’t fall off easily.
Crouse said those who purchase trees should be prepared to take care of their investment to keep them fresh.
“The first three days are critical,” she said.
Crouse recommends preventing the tree from freezing on the way home and once there, setting it up with plenty of water in the tree stand.
“The trunk should be sappy to the touch. If it’s sappy, it can suck water into the tree, and it will suck it down daily,” she said.
Crouse recommends making fresh holes or cuts, one to two inches from the bottom to help the tree drink even more.
Eventually though, all trees will die, and Wilcox recommends disposing of them and other waste properly after the holidays.
“Trees can be disposed of by hauling them off to the dump or by taking them to the Firewise project area off of the (Kenai) Spur Highway,” he said.
Firewise accepts trees, clippings and other yard debris.
Trees, branches, wrapping paper and other holiday items should not be burned in woodstoves or fireplaces, he added, since a flash fire may result as these items ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
As in every season, Wilcox said people should clean chimneys and stove flues regularly and have working smoke alarms throughout the home that are tested, and have the batteries replaced often.
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