Commentary: Your Christmas tree requires attention to safety

By Ken Grant

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and it has been for weeks now, as many people try to spread some cheer in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ken Grant

One holiday staple — the Christmas tree — has been popping up on top of cars and in windows everywhere much earlier than in typical years, extending the tree’s inside display time to six weeks or more by the time Christmas Day arrives. In fact, a survey from the Christmas Tree Promotion Board said 21% of people reported they were more likely to buy a real Christmas tree this year after having an artificial one last year or no tree at all.

However, this extended display time actually increases the potential for live Christmas trees to become fire hazards.

Here’s a look at some statistics from the National Fire Protection Association:

• Between 2014-18, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires per year that started with Christmas trees. These fires caused an annual average of two civilian deaths, 14 civilian injuries and $10.3 million in direct property damage.

• Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 45% of home Christmas tree fires.

• In more than one-fifth (22%) of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.

With all that in mind, AAA Insurance offers the following tips to reduce the risk of a house fire this Christmas:

• Make sure the Christmas tree is at least 3 feet away from any heat source (fireplace, radiator, candles, heat vents or lights).

• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.

• Add water to your tree daily.

• Replace any worn or broken string of lights or loose bulb connections. Never use lit candles to light the tree.

• Always turn off the lights on the tree before going to bed or leaving home.

Extended display time increases the potential for live Christmas trees
to become fire hazards.

If you have yet to get your Christmas tree, here are a few tips to keep in mind for transporting it:

Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck or an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed.

Bring proper tools, like strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots. Bring an old blanket and gloves.

Protect the tree — and your vehicle. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and to protect the vehicle’s finish.

Point the trunk toward the front. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.

Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. At the bottom, use fixed vehicle tiedown points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. The center and top tiedowns should be installed in a similar manner.

Give it the tug test. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.

Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the best tiedown methods.

Let’s face it — 2020 has been a pretty rough experience for all of us. Let’s see if we can wrap up the year without causing damage to our families, homes and vehicles.

Ken Grant is the manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atl