The Christmas tree is second only to Santa Claus when it comes to iconic images of the holiday. But while Saint Nick is an independent guy who magically flies around the world, your beautifully decorated tree is stuck at home like a grounded teenager. Both require attention to keep everyone safe.

A dry tree that comes in contact with a spark or a flame can ignite an entire room in under a minute. The Los Angeles City Fire Department recently demonstrated the dangers of a Christmas tree fire and in less than 60 seconds it was a smokey, fiery pile of potential Christmas chaos.


Dramatic? Yes! Preventable? Absolutely! With a few smart, commonsense moves on your part, you can enjoy a fire-free holiday. Nobody wants a crispy Christmas.

If you have a live tree, water it every day and then discard it when it dries out. By Christmas, many trees are dry or getting there, especially if you put it up around Thanksgiving. Even if you’ve kept it watered, they do dry out, and a dry tree burns three to four times faster than one that’s freshly cut and well-hydrated. Keeping your tree properly watered could be the difference between a damaged home or a destroyed home. Drying out is a great idea for your Uncle Floyd, not great at all for your Christmas tree.

A fresh tree is green and its needles are hard to pull from branches and don’t break when bent between your fingers. If they immediately snap when bending, it’s time to throw that thing away. Some communities have recycling programs for unwanted trees after the holidays. For a list of free tree disposal locations in the city of Los Angeles, go to www.lacitysan.org.

Also check your holiday lights for kinks or frayed wires. Worn cords and loose bulbs should be replaced. Make sure electrical outlets aren’t overloaded. This isn’t a contest to see how much an outlet can handle. Experts also encourage unplugging lights when turning in for the night and when leaving home. Electrical issues are one of the major causes of Christmas tree fires.

When setting up your tree, place it at least 3 feet away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, space heaters, vents, radiators and lit candles.

If you’re going the artificial route, look for the label: “Fire Resistant.” The label doesn’t mean the tree won’t catch fire, it’s just… well, more resistant. And when it comes to real trees, you can actually start your whole journey to a fire free Christmas at the point of purchase…


While at the tree lot, make sure to ask for a 2-inch fresh cut at the base of the tree. This will help the tree absorb more water. The average Christmas tree can absorb as much as one gallon of water per day. That’s why it’s important. You check it every day and add water to the tree stand every day.

This holiday season, the only thing roasting on an open fire should be your chestnuts, so don’t let a dry tree ruin Christmas… that’s what your In-laws are for.

HEAT IT UP! THE RIGHT WAY!

Of course, the holidays go hand in hand with colder temperatures. In Los Angeles, that’s anything below 70º. Nonetheless, keeping your home warm and cozy for all the festivities is a must. Doing it safely is the priority, which brings us to the dangers for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide, known as the invisible killer, is an odorless, colorless gas that often goes undetected, until it’s too late. Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages.

This “invisible killer” is produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, portable generators or furnaces. Anyone can be at risk.

The National Safety Council recommends you install a battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide detector in the hallway near each separate sleeping area in your home. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall and replace the detector every five years.


If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds DO NOT IGNORE IT!

Immediately move outside to fresh air and call 9-1-1!
Do not reenter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so.

To avoid the drama of a carbon monoxide scare…

Have your furnace, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced every year!

Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors!

Never use a gas oven for heating your home!

Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes, even if doors and windows are open!

Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open; always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car inside.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning range from headache and fatigue to vomiting, mental confusion and loss of consciousness. Mild symptoms sometimes are mistaken for flu.

If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, do not try to figure it out or find the source, go outside and get fresh air immediately. You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home.

By Patrick Stinson

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