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Wellness Matters: Christmas Tree Safety

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The following weekly column is written and sponsored by Virginia Hospital Center, a proud member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals for the third year in a row.

The holidays are here, which means some of us will be buying and decorating a Christmas tree in the next few weeks. With its lights, tinsel and ornaments, the tree is a beautiful sight, but it’s also a potential safety hazard. Fire departments across the country respond to more than 200 tree-related fires annually. The Arlington County Fire Department recommends these tips for keeping you and your loved ones safe this holiday season:

  • Buy a fresh-cut tree. How can you tell? Bend the needles. If they bounce back, chances are the tree is fresh. Another freshness clue: sap in the trunk.
  • Give it a fresh cut. Ask the vendor to cut off about two inches from the bottom of the trunk, or do it yourself when you get the tree home.
  • Buy a sturdy tree stand. It should be deep enough to hold at least three inches of water and strong enough to withstand children and pets.
  • Buy quality lights. Choose flame-resistant, energy-efficient lights approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Before stringing the lights, make sure the cords are not damaged or frayed.
  • Keep it cool. Place the tree away from sources of heat, including the fireplace, heat vents, radiators and any large appliances that give off heat, such as a big-screen TV. Never use candles near a Christmas tree.
  • Don’t overload the extension cord. Attach a maximum of three strings of lights to each extension cord. Never run the cords under a rug or carpet.
  • Turn off the lights. Unplug tree lights before you go to bed and when you leave the house. Never leave lights on when you are away on vacation.
  • Water regularly. Check the water level in the tree stand at least once a day and fill as necessary.

Artificial trees pose hazards as well. If you have an artificial tree, be sure it is flame-resistant. If the tree has built-in lights, be sure they are approved by a nationally recognized testing lab.

Christmas treeWhether your tree is fresh or artificial, keep a fire extinguisher handy. Make sure every adult in the family knows how to use it. In addition, install and maintain one smoke alarm on each floor and in each bedroom. Test all devices monthly.

Do you have a fire escape plan? Your plan should include two ways out of every room, getting low, closing the door behind you, going directly to your predetermined family meeting place, and then calling 9-1-1. Be sure everyone in your household understands the plan. Practice it together at least twice a year.

The Arlington County Fire Department offers free home safety checks to residents of Arlington and the City of Falls Church. Request a home safety check by calling your local fire station.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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