Editorial: Keep Christmas trees well-watered to limit fire hazard

Whether you’ve already brought a fresh, natural Christmas tree into your home or are planning to purchase one in the next week or so before the holiday, be sure to take proper care of it in order to ensure it doesn’t become a fire hazard in the coming weeks.

The National Fire Protection Association notes that roughly 200 house fires involved a Christmas tree every year from 2011 to 2015. Marylanders may remember the January 2015 mansion fire in Annapolis that killed the two owners and their four grandchildren. Investigators said the fire began when a corroded electrical outlet in the floor ignited a Christmas tree skirt, but it was the drying Fraser fir that fed the flames.


A video recently produced by the NFPA shows the difference between a well-watered tree and a dry one. Within seconds of being intentionally lit, the dry tree is engulfed in flames, with fire spreading to the ceiling quickly. The well-watered tree smolders, but after two minutes, it’s not clear if it’s still even burning. Meanwhile the entire room surrounding the dry tree is covered in flames in the same time frame.

That’s not to say a fresh, well-watered tree is immune from catching fire, rather it is to illustrate just how quickly a dried-out tree can become a serious hazard.

Picking a fresh tree is a good way to start. If you’re cutting your own, you’ll know it’s fresh. If you’re buying from a pre-cut lot, it’s not unusual for a tree to be dropping some needles, but if exterior needles fall off with a gentle touch or if it’s bounced on a hard surface, it’s probably too dry. You can also try bending the needles — if they bounce back, the tree is probably still fresh.

Whether you purchase a pre-cut tree from a retail store or a tree lot or cut your own, have the bottom cut to help the tree absorb as much water as possible and get it into water within three hours of that cut. If you don’t, it’s wise to recut the bottom of the tree before putting it in the stand.

Daily waterings will keep the tree from drying out too soon.

A dry tree alone won’t catch fire, of course, but most people will trim the tree with lights. Make sure to check cords for any frays or loose connections before putting them on the tree, and don’t leave them on constantly. Turn them off each day before leaving for work and before going to sleep. Keep the tree away from vents and heat sources like fireplaces or space heaters; not only could those things potentially ignite the tree, but they will also dry out the tree faster.

Once the holidays are over, don’t hesitate in removing lights from your tree and taking it outside for disposal. The longer it stays in the house drying out, the greater the fire hazard it becomes.