210 House Fires a Year Start with Christmas Trees : 5 Ways to Stay Safer During the Holidays

by | Nov 9, 2015

Every year families are tragically affected by the very Christmas decorations that are supposed to bring joy.

Here is a startling video from the National Fire Protection Agency:

According to the The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) (https://www.nfpa.org/):

  • Between 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 210 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 7 deaths, 19 injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage annually.
  • On average, one of every 31 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires.
  • Electrical problems were factors in three out of 10 home Christmas tree structure fires.
  • Two of every five (39%) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.

While not all fires are preventable, here are five areas of concern you can address in your home to reduce the chances of a fire dampening your Christmas season.

We’ve incorporated a few of the NFPA safety tips in this article and added a few of our own.

1. Make sure your tree starts and stays in the best possible condition

Buy a fresh Christmas tree and keep it watered  

If yours is one of the families who love the fragrance and look of a real tree, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of house fire.

Before you purchase your tree, shake the limbs gently and see that the needles stay on the tree.  

They shouldn’t fall off like the rose petals on a week-old cut flower display.

When you get your tree home take simple steps to keep your tree fresh as long as possible:

  • Cut at least 1/2 inch off of the bottom of the tree. (If you purchase your tree at a lot, they may take care of this for you – be sure to ask about this service.) In the same way that clipping off the ends of flowers increases their ability to draw water up through their stems and last longer, cutting the bottom of the tree will make it easier for it to absorb water.
  • After cutting the bottom,  install your tree into a stand that’s specially made for a real tree with an easy to access port for watering the tree daily. Trees with just a 2-inch trunk can use up to 2 quarts of water a day.Don’t shave the side of the trunk to make it fit into the stand since water runs up the outer layer of the trunk. Find a bigger tree stand.If you should happen to let the reservoir in your tree stand run out of water, you’ll need to recut the end of the trunk – so don’t let that happen.
  • It bears repeating, water your tree daily and remove your tree within a few days after Christmas or when you see it brown and start to drop it’s leaves.  
  • If you plan to travel after Christmas consider removing your tree from your home and definitely unplugging any lighting before going out of town.

2. Locate your tree away from heat sources and direct sunlight

Make sure your natural tree is installed several feet from fireplaces, heater vents and flammable fabrics.Don’t put your Christmas tree close to your fireplace, radiator or heater vent.

3. Be electrically smart

Don’t run too many sets of lights in series 

While I love wretched excess when it comes to Christmas tree lights you have to practice electrical restraint. Every Christmas light string has a maximum connection rating. The current UL guideline is that no run of lights connected end-to-end with male and female plug sets exceed 210 watts.

Know the wattage rating of the lights that you are using and the maximum specification before you get started and don’t add “just one more set”.  

Don’t over-tax your breakers

A good rule of thumb is to stay under 1000 watts per household breaker. Also consider that this specification is per breaker not outlet. Many times multiple outlets run to the same breaker.

If you have a question about how many lights can be supplied safely by your electrical service, consult with an electrician.

Use a properly specified extension cord

Fire due to over-taxed extension cords is high on the list of fire starters at Christmas. Use a heavy duty, properly rated extension cord. A simple household extension cord may not be sufficient if you are lighting your tree with 1000’s of bulbs, bubble lights and larger C7 or C9 bulbs.

Consider using LED light strings and/or LED C7 or C9 bulbs

If you really love a ton of lights on your tree, consider LED light sets that operate with little to no heat output. Their ultra-low current rating means that you can run many more of them in series vs. traditional Christmas tree lights.

Never modify Christmas mini lights or LED light strings

Under no circumstances should you shorten, adjust, modify, cut, weld or electrically repair Christmas light strings that are wired in series. Series wired light strings go out if a bulb is removed from a socket. This includes all pre-wired Christmas tree mini lights and pre-wired LED Christmas light strings. (That bears repeating.)

If an adjustment requires the use of a soldering gun, you’ve just taken a significant risk. It’s not worth a house fire to shorten a set of lights or replace a defective socket.

Hire a licensed electrician

A Master Licensed Electrician’s hourly rate is nominal compared to the cost of replacing burned furniture and rebuilding after a fire. Hire an electrician to install your lights or to inspect them after installation. Save your boxes or print out the specifications of the lights strings you plan to or have used in your project.

4. Confirm lights on your Artificial tree are in good condition

Check for frayed wires and plug connections. If you see any visible damage, see or hear sparks at any time during installation, remove the lights strings and start over with new lights.

Replace burned out bulbs

Using the replacement bulbs that came with your light sets, replace any burned out bulbs.  

Even though the light string will continue to burn because there is a shunt wire that continues to conduct electricity, a higher current will run through the rest of the bulbs. Save yourself time and trouble and replace strings that have more than a couple burned out bulbs because once you see a few go out, the rest are soon to follow. More than likely that’ll be at 11:00 PM on December 24.

5. Use a timer, don’t leave lights on unattended

Use a properly rated timer to ensure your lights are turned off each evening.

If you are using LED lights, consider using a timer that has a built-in surge protector. Surges on the lines are the number one cause of LED failures.

The disclaimers:

All of the electrical guidelines and specifications referenced in this article are subject to change according to evolving standards and regulatory guidelines. Consult with a master licensed electrician to ensure that your home Christmas lighting decor is properly wired and powered.

The author of this article assumes no responsibility or liability.  Be wise, and use a Licensed Master Electrician.

See these web pages for more information:



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  1. Cecilia A.

    This is great information. We have almost always had a real Christmas tree (except when we lived in Brazil and it was summer at Christmas). What folks need to understand is that the tree they are buying on the corner or at their local charity lot were cut weeks ago and the tree sap has sealed the cut. That is why it is imperative to make a new fresh cut and place the tree trunk in water right away so the tree can absorb it and stay fresher longer.

  2. Jaudon Davis

    Thank you for the information. It’s important to remember your advice.

  3. Mike

    We have always had a real tree, and the info you have here is exactly what everyone needs to know to stay safe. We water regularly and never run the lights when we are not in the room. As the video shows, a dry tree takes seconds before it is engulfed in flames. Scary stuff, but if people are smart and do the things you point out here, they will be much safer.

  4. Suzanne

    Thanks for the tips! This is always a concern for me around the Christmas season, so I always unplug my tree when I’m not home. The point about not adding too many strands of lights in a row is one that could easily be overlooked.

  5. Theryssa

    Thank you for the great info! I’ve always been nervous my tree would catch on fire! Lots of good tips here.


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