Editor's note: Sherri Yearta kindly put this holiday safety article together for our Patch viewers. She is the Douglas County Fire Department's Fire and Life Safety Educator and Inspector.
Check live trees to make sure that they are fresh:
Needles on fresh trees should be green and spring back when bent. Bounce the tree on the ground. If too many needles fall off, the tree is dry and is not safe for use. The trunk of the tree should be sticky to the touch.
Taking care of the tree when you get it home:
Don't place trees close to any heat source–fireplace, heater vents, or portable space heaters. The heat will dry out the tree much faster. Re-cut the base of the tree prior to placing it in the tree stand and fill the stand with water. The fresh cut will help the tree to absorb the water. Check the water daily and replenish as necessary.
Safety Tips for Artificial Christmas trees:
Make sure that artificial Christmas trees are flame retardant. If using a metal Christmas tree, do not use electric lights. The tree can become charged with electricity from a faulty strand of lights, and anyone touching the tree could be electrocuted.
General Tips for Christmas tree safety:
Never place real (wax) candles on a Christmas tree. Never place a tree in front of a doorway, or in a path to a doorway. Never throw fallen needles into your fireplace or woodburning stove. Never go near a live Christmas tree with smoking materials (cigarettes, lighters, matches). Dispose of your live tree at an approved site. The Douglas County Landfill sponsors a free live tree drop-off after Christmas, and the trees are ground into mulch, which is available to Douglas County residents.
Christmas Lights and Decorations:
Use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing facility (Underwriters Laboratory, for example).
Check each set of lights for broken or damaged bulbs, sockets, or frayed wiring. Discard any sets that are damaged.
Connect only as many strands of lighting together as recommended on the packaging. Keep the packaging with your lights to refresh your memory each holiday season. Generally, no more than three stands should be connected together.
Connect strings of lights to an extension cord prior to plugging the cord into the outlet.
Check the lighting periodically throughout the holiday season. Wiring should not be warm to the touch. If wiring becomes warm to the touch, it should be removed and discarded. Turn off all lights at any time that the tree will be unattended, when leaving the home or at bedtime. For outdoor lighting, securely fasten lights to trees, house or other firm supports to prevent wind damage to lighting. Use only insulated staples, or plastic clips or other devices made specifically for this purpose.
Use only non-flammable or flame-retardant decorations. Decorations should not be placed near heat vents or heating devices. In homes with small children, avoid decorations with small pieces, sharp edges, or removable parts. These decorations could cause injury to a curious child.
In homes with small children or pets, avoid decorations that look like candy or food. They may be ingested and could cause choking injuries. Never put wrapping paper in the fireplace. This can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers, and could also result in a chimney fire.
Use extreme caution with "fire salts" (chemicals that cause flames to change colors when thrown on wood fires). Fire salts contain heavy metals that can cause gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children and pets.
Most importantly, maintain working smoke detectors on all levels of your home. Check smoke detectors monthly, and replace batteries at least twice a year.