Christmas trees pose high risk of fatal fires

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According to Nielsen research, approximately 35 million U.S. households will purchase a real or artificial Christmas tree this season.

Christmas tree fires result in $15 million worth of property damage annually in the United States, and 1 in 32 results in a death. While fires will never be 100 percent preventable, there are things you can do to reduce the danger. Lt. Jim Bussell of the Rapid City Fire Department says both real and artificial trees can pose safety hazards.

"Remember that Christmas tree fires aren't necessarily common,” said Bussell. “The thing to remember though is that when a fire happens, and a Christmas tree is involved, they're generally much more significant and much more severe."

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, between 2011 and 2015, firefighters responded an average of 200 home fires each year started by Christmas trees. Those fires were responsible for an average of six deaths and 16 injuries. Bussell says that if a homeowner has a real tree, it is important to keep it watered. But all trees should be kept away from heating vents, fireplaces, and other heat sources.

"Remember to make sure your tree is at least, a minimum of three feet away from heat sources. And then whatever lights you chose to use, you want to make sure that they are UL listed and make sure that they are in good repair."

While shorts in the wiring of Christmas lights can definitely cause a problem, overloading outlets could turn that problem into a disaster.

"We see all the time where people have more things plugged into the outlet than it is designed to have, and that’s where a lot of folks tend to get into trouble."

Bussell also suggests using a surge protected outlet splitter to help protect against electrical fires.

The National Fire Protection Agency suggests after Christmas that real trees are removed before they become dried out and should not be stored in a garage or against the side of your home.

Trees can be disposed at the 24-hour collection site at 5555 South Highway 79 or at satellite yard waste collection centers will accept Christmas trees from Dec. 26 until Jan. 31. Residents should not put trees in plastic bags, and should make sure all ornaments and lights are removed, as they contaminate the compost.

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