How to celebrate the holidays " safely | VailDaily.com
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How to celebrate the holidays " safely

Al Bosworth
Vail CO, Colorado

Nothing can be more devastating than a fire during the holidays and special safety precautions should be taken during this time of year. A burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases. The following is a list of pointers to assist in having a safe holiday season.

The first decision is: Do I buy a real tree or an artificial one? The fake trees have come a long way in the last few years. The better ones look just like a live tree from 10 feet away. They’re safer, cheaper in the long run and are much more eco-friendly.

If the decision to go with an artificial tree is still not yet an option, consider a live tree. A live tree can be planted out in the garden after serving through the holiday season.



If you still want a fresh cut tree, there are several things to check to ensure the tree will last through the holidays. The truck should be sticky to the touch. The needles should be green and hard to break off. Bouncing the tree on the ground can help identify old trees. If too many needles fall off, the tree has probably dried out and is a potential fire hazard.

Your tree was probably stored outside in the cold until you bought it. If you don’t plan on putting up your tree immediately, leave it outside in a cold, shady spot. Cut trees generally don’t last longer than a couple of weeks. Don’t put your tree up too early.



Prior to placing the tree in the stand, cut about an inch off the bottom of the trunk. That will open up the capillaries in the trunk and extend the life of the tree. Keep the stand filled with water. Warm water will tend to wick up the tree easier than cold water.

There are also additives sold to put in the water to extend the life of the tree. Most seem to be basically sugar. I’ve also heard of some old tricks, like using aspirin or a lemon lime soft drink in the water. Aspirin opens up the capillaries of the tree and the soda has sugar in it.

Do not place the tree close to a heat source, such as a fireplace or heat vent. It will dry out the tree. The same goes for garlands. Do not block doorways and/or exits.



Inspect the lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation and broken or cracked sockets before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory. Do not link more than three strands together as a general rule. Don’t place cords where they will be tripped over. Periodically check the wires. They should not be warm to the touch. Don’t leave lights on when nobody is home or after everyone has gone to bed.

If there are small children or pets in the house, keep the decorations out of reach to prevent them from tipping the tree over. If necessary, tie the tree to a wall or other secure place.

Open flames such as candles and incense are found commonly around the holidays and children have a natural fascination with fire. Use this time to discuss the importance of fire safety with your children.

Decorations are found throughout the house during the holiday season. All decorations should be non-flammable or sprayed with a flame retardant. Stockings, garlands, and pine boughs are often placed on fireplace mantles. Ensure that the heat source is not too near to the combustibles. They now make decorations with built in smoke detectors to hang on the tree. If you are using an artificial tree, make sure it is a flame retardant type.

Never dispose of branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of a tree is by recycling. The Town of Vail has a recycling plan in place that is simple and easy to use. Remove all the decorations, including those little metallic icicles, and put the tree out at the end of the driveway. The recycle plan is in place for most of January.

The holidays are a fun and festive time of the year. Let’s keep everyone safe by practicing good fire safety techniques. Know how and when to call for help. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Test the smoke detectors in the home and replace the batteries if in doubt. And remember to practice your home escape plans with your family.

Al Bosworth is a fire technician for Vail Fire and Emergency Services.


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