AAA: COVID-19 extends Christmas tree season, and fire season

Christmas tree

(© pikselstock – stock.adobe.com)

One holiday staple – the Christmas tree – has been popping up on top of cars and in windows everywhere much earlier than in typical years, extending the trees’ inside display time to six weeks or more by the time Christmas Day arrives.

However, this extended display time actually increases the potential for live Christmas trees to become fire hazards.

AAA Mid-Atlantic urges everyone to prioritize safety when transporting a Christmas tree and preventing it from becoming a fire hazard. According to the American Red Cross, home fires can happen at any time, but they generally increase during the fall and winter, with December and January being the peak months.

“If not properly secured, a tree can cause vehicle damage such as scratched paint, torn door seals, distorted window frames, or even worse, it could fly off the vehicle and become a danger to other drivers,” said Morgan Dean, a Senior Specialist in Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “In addition to safely transporting a Christmas tree, we urge those displaying live trees in their homes for the holidays take care of it properly to avoid having it dry out and become a fire hazard.”

Christmas tree fire prevention

Once the Christmas tree reaches its holiday home safely, proper placement and decorations are key to prevent a devastating house fire. The National Fire Protection Association reports that although Christmas tree fires are rare, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious:

  • Between 2014-2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 160 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year.
  • These fires caused an average of two deaths, 14 injuries, and $10.3 million in direct property damage annually.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 45 percent of home Christmas tree fires.
  • In more than one-fifth (22 percent) of the Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.

“Christmas time is such a great time to make our home look beautiful and festive,” said Battalion Chief Doug Reynolds with the Henrico County Division of Fire.  “But if you decide to use a real Christmas tree, be sure to pick a healthy one, water it daily, turn off the lights when you go to bed and most importantly, have a working smoke detector.”

Henrico Division of Fire and AAA Insurance offer the following tips to reduce the risk of a house fire this Christmas.

  • Make sure the Christmas tree is at least three feet away from any heat source (fireplace, radiator, candles, heat vents, or lights)
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to your tree daily.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Never use lit candles to light the tree.
  • Always turn off the lights on the tree before going to bed or leaving home.

Transporting the Tree

According to AAA research, an estimated 84 million Americans (33 percent) will purchase a real Christmas tree and of those:

  • 44 percent of Americans who plan to purchase a real Christmas tree will transport the tree using unsafe methods.
    • 20 percent will tie the tree to the roof of their vehicle without using a roof rack
    • 24 percent plan to place the tree in the bed of their pickup truck unsecured.
  • Among those planning to purchase a live Christmas tree this year, 16 percent have previously experienced a Christmas tree falling off or out of their vehicle during transport.
  • An improperly secured Christmas tree can cost drivers as much as $1,500 in repairs.
  • Previous research from AAA found that road debris caused more than 200,000 crashes during a four-year period, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.

“Twine that is wrapped around trees and looped through door jambs or open windows can cause serious vehicle damage such as scratched paint, torn door seals and distorted window frames – damage that could cost up to $1,500 to repair,” said Morgan Dean, a Senior Specialist in Public and Government Affairs with AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Worse yet, improperly securing a Christmas tree to your vehicle could present a serious road danger if it comes loose and flies off into traffic.”

AAA notes, transporting a real Christmas tree is easy as long as you have the tools and follow these simple tips:

  • Do not visit. If you or anyone from your family has tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-related symptoms, do not visit a tree lot.
  • Call the lot ahead of time. Ask about their policies for visiting. It is possible they may have reduced operating hours or are limiting the amount of people who can visit the lot at one time. It is also a good idea to ask when they are slow and plan to visit then, when crowds may be smaller.
  • Wear a face covering and practice social distancing. Although most lots are located outside, it is recommended to take all necessary precautions while shopping.
  • Use the right vehicle. It’s best to transport a Christmas tree on top of a vehicle equipped with a roof rack. However, if you do not have a roof rack, use the bed of a pickup truck or an SUV, van or minivan that can fit the tree inside with all doors closed.
  • Bring proper tools. Bring strong rope or nylon ratchet straps to secure the tree to your vehicle’s roof rack. Avoid the lightweight twine offered by many tree lots. Bring an old blanket and gloves.
  • Protect the tree – and your vehicle. Have the tree wrapped in netting before loading it. If netting is unavailable, secure loose branches with rope or twine. Use an old blanket to prevent paint scratches and protect the vehicle finish.
  • Point the trunk towards the front. Always place the tree on a roof rack or in a pickup bed with the bottom of the trunk facing the front of the vehicle.
  • Tie it down. Secure the tree at its bottom, center and top. At the bottom, use fixed vehicle tie-down points and loop around the trunk above a lower branch, to prevent any side-to-side or front-to-rear movement. The center and top tie downs should be installed in a similar manner.
  • Give it the tug test. Before you leave the lot, give the tree several strong tugs from various directions to make sure it is secured in place and will not blow away.
  • Drive slowly and easily. Take the back roads, if possible. Higher speeds create significant airflow that can damage your Christmas tree and challenge even the best tie-down methods.

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