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State Fire Marshal’s Office urges care with Christmas trees

Posted on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 11:11 am

Tennesseans Encouraged to Follow Safety Precautions to Avoid Holiday Fire Hazards

Leeland Smith, left, helps his grandfather Rick Smith, of Martinsville, pull the Christmas tree they cut down the packaging area at the Tower Family Christmas Tree Farm in Columbus, Ind., Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. Cathy Tower and her husband Ed opened their Christmas tree farm 25 years ago. They converted five of their 30-plus acres of farmland into a tree farm where they grow some 5,000 trees. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

NASHVILLE – While opinions may differ on how soon is too soon to put up holiday decorations, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) reminds consumers that one thing is not up for debate: Dry and neglected Christmas trees can cause fires. To avoid a devastating home fire, the SFMO encourages Tennesseans to keep fire safety in mind when trimming the tree this holiday season.

Each year, fire departments nationwide respond to an average of 210 structure fires caused by Christmas trees according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). A heat source too close to the Christmas tree started over one-quarter (26 percent) of these fires. Christmas tree fires are not common, but when they occur, they are likely to be serious.

“Christmas trees are beautiful, but they can also be fire hazards if proper precautions aren’t taken,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “Tennesseans can help make the holidays both fire-safe and festive by carefully decorating and properly maintaining Christmas trees.”

To combat Christmas tree fires, the SFMO has made educational posters and hang tags available to various Christmas tree retail lots across the state. The materials aim to remind consumers of Christmas tree safety tips, including the importance of keeping natural trees watered. The outreach is part of the SFMO’s “Be A Good Elf” safety campaign launched last year to help mitigate holiday fire hazards.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office shares the following Christmas tree safety guidelines to help Tennesseans reduce the risk of holiday fires:

Picking the tree

  • If you have an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire retardant.
  • If you choose a live tree, select one with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.

Placing the tree

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2″ from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily
    ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting the tree

  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Disposing of the tree

  • Get rid of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home.
  • Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood burning stove.

For more information on making your home fire-safe, visit

About the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance: TDCI protects the interests of consumers while providing fair, efficient oversight and a level field of competition for a broad array of industries and professionals doing business in Tennessee. Our divisions include the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Insurance, Securities, Consumer Affairs, Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, Regulatory Boards, Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, Tennessee Corrections Institute, and TennCare Oversight.