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Avoid these Christmas tree fire dangers

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SEATTLE - Whether you've already picked out the perfect tree, or are following Clark Griswold into the woods soon (and if you do, remember the bigger ones are "a little full" with "a lot of sap") there are some things local firefighters want you to remember when it comes to keeping your home safe. Yes, you will read some of them and think, for example, "Really? Don't people know not to put candles on their tree?" The answer is, "No. Not all people do." Otherwise, they wouldn't be compelled to include it in this list, which, as you'll see as you scroll down, they had to.

These safety tips come from the folks at the Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority, but any added comments are my fault (forgive me, I was eating a salad for lunch as I wrote this,  really getting angry that I didn't bring a giant sandwich and chips instead).

TIP ONE: Picking out that perfect tree and bringing it home. Turns out, there are some things we can do when buying that tree to prep it for a safe tenure in our home. That's right, much like the scholarly professors of college, your tree is on the tenure track to Christmas, and all it had to do was show up in your home.

  • First, don't be afraid to ask staff at the pre-cut to tell  you when the trees were cut down. You'll want a tree that was chopped down in the last 3-4 days; anything older than that will be drier and more of  a fire hazard.
  • This is one of those times where you DO want to shake something before you buy it. (You wouldn't, for example, shake a box of crystal wine glasses in the store to "see if they are sturdy".) If the tree drops a lot of needles, it's a bit drier than the others and may not last as long once you get it home.
  • Have them re-cut the trunk before you drive off with it. (Drive off = drive off after paying, I mean. Of course.) The fresh cut will make it easier for your tree to drink that delicious water you're giving it once you bring it home. I'm assuming you knew to give it water, and not, say, eggnog, but you never know.
  • Bale the tree. Slapping that tree on your roof, Griswold-style (there's that name again, sorry- can't help it, it's my favorite holiday movie) will create more wind resistance as  you drive home, which can damage poor Mr. Tree. Baling it will help.

TIP TWO: Keeping Mr. Tree (Or Ms. Tree) safe once you're home

  • Use a sturdy stand. Think about it: a tree in an unstable stand will wobble, a wobbly tree is an attractive toy for curious kids AND pets (some cats may think you've brought them a special new scratching post) and can fall into them OR that crackling fire nearby.
  • Which brings us to Kent Fire Department's next point: for crying out loud, don't set up your tree right next to fireplaces, candles, or even other heat sources. (Ok, maybe I added the "for crying out loud" part. But, seriously, please don't look at your crackling fire and think, "Mr. Tree sure would be warmer next to that," because he wouldn't, and it's very dangerous. It's sometimes easy to forget that if you're setting Ms. Tree up when the fire isn't on/lit.)
  • Keep the tree watered- not just because a dry tree can be a bigger fire hazard, but also because dry trees may not last as long.
  • Remember the pets we mentioned earlier? Ever notice how even though you give them a giant bowl of fresh, delicious water they still insist on drinking it from random sources like the toilet to prove they can still be the fierce hunters their ancestors once were in the wild? (I don't know about you, but my cat thinks a Christmas tree is a giant scratching post planted in a fresh bowl of water just for him.) Back to the KFD's messaging: if water drops below the level of the trunk (from thirsty pets or just from forgetting to refill) you may have to RE-CUT THE TRUNK! I put those words in caps because this sounds like an arduous chore to me, and if I were you I would want to water my tree all the time to avoid it. Why would you have to re-cut it? Because if the trunk is exposed and dry for too long, it can secrete sap, which can then block your efforts to get water back into Mr. or Ms. Tree.
  • Make sure the lights you put on the tree are designated for indoor use.
  • Never use lit candles on a tree. (Really, everyone? There must still be people out there doing this, or they wouldn't have included it here. Please don't do this. Ever.)

TIP THREE: Disposing of your tree properly  This is important: the folks at the Kent Fire Department say nearly 40% of all indoor tree fires happen in JANUARY. It's extra important to dispose of your tree, period, but to do it in a safe way.

  • Check with your disposal company to see if they'll take it. If not, many scout troops will do it for a small fee/donation.
  • Even if you get Mr. or Ms. Tree outside, don't prop it up near your home where it can create a fire hazard.
  • Depending on where you live, it may be appropriate to look into this green solution that adds it back to the environment in a natural way: adding it to a stream bed, using it as a home for small animals, or allowing it to decompose naturally in a wooded area.

Please be safe, and as Clark W. Griswold would say, may you and your tree have a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas!