It’s Christmas tree season.
As Canadians celebrate with family and friends, experts are sounding the alarm about the potential dangers as fires are quite common during the holiday season.
“One in five fires are caused by a natural Christmas tree during and around the Christmas season,” said Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC).
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Besides the kitchen, candles are another major cause of fires during the holidays, according to James Donaldson, a fire prevention officer at the University of Toronto.
He estimates that around 200 Christmas tree and lighting fires occur each year during the winter season across Canada – sometimes fatal fires.
During the 2020-21 winter season, at least five people were killed by dry Christmas trees that caught fire in Ontario, according to provincial officials.
In Toronto specifically, Christmas trees sparked three fires in 2019 and two in 2020.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, emergency crews were busy on Christmas Day a few years ago responding to about 20 calls, including two major structure fires.
Also in 2020, a fire on Christmas Day evening caused $300,000 in damage to two homes in the Riversdale neighborhood of Saskatoon. No injuries were reported.
In addition to Christmas trees, more and more heaters, candles, electrical cords, tree lights and other ornamental decorations are used during the holiday season.
All of these factors contribute to a higher prevalence of fires, the Toronto Fire Services Public Information Office said.
After two years of COVID restrictions, more people will be hosting in 2022 and having guests around.
Experts say it’s important to have a fire escape plan and a working smoke detection system in your home.
In the United States, 160 house fires started with Christmas trees, resulting in two civilian deaths, 12 civilian injuries and US$10 million in direct property damage, averaged each year between 2015 and 2019, according to the National. Fire Protection Association (NFPA). ).
Better awareness and home fire protection systems have reduced Christmas tree fires in Canada, McMullen said, but there’s still an “additional risk factor.”
When picking your Christmas tree, there are a number of things you can do to ensure safety and choose the right one for your home.
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McMullen advised choosing a tree that has been cut most recently because trees dry out over time and become susceptible to fire.
“We always want to make sure that the pine needles that are on our Christmas trees stay…stay on the tree,” he said.
Checking the bottom of the tree for sap is a good indicator of how fresh the tree is, Donaldson said.
Tree branches need to be flexible, meaning they can bend without the needles coming loose, he said. You can shake the branches or run your hands over them and even pound the tree on the ground to make sure the needles don’t fall off.
Christmas trees are highly flammable, especially when they become dry and brittle, which is why they should be watered daily, experts say.
“This dry Christmas tree is actually a pretty dangerous situation that we don’t want people to be caught off guard with,” McMullen said.
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Donaldson said that in many residential buildings, only artificial trees can be used, so first make sure you’re even allowed to bring a live Christmas tree home.
As part of its holiday fire safety tips, the CAFC advises people to keep their Christmas trees at least three feet away from any heat source, such as a fireplace, radiator, candle or stove.
The tree should not block doors, windows or any other egress route, to allow easy escape in an emergency.
A sturdy support should secure the tree — and if you see it getting wobbly, a guide wire can be used to secure it to the ceiling at the top, Donaldson said.
According to the NFPA, more than a third of home decor fires are started by candles.
That’s why the CAFC is urging Canadians to avoid using real candles in their holiday decorations and to “no flames” this season.
Those who choose to use candles are advised to keep them at least 12 inches from anything combustible, the CAFC says.
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The City of Ottawa advises residents to keep candles in a sturdy container, away from pets and children, and to blow them out when leaving the room.
Lighting used on trees must be approved by the Canadian Standards Association, according to officials and experts.
Donaldson recommended putting a maximum of 100 lights per foot of tree. So a six-foot tree should have no more than 600 lights, he said.
LED lights use less power and produce less heat, so they are a good option for Christmas decorations.
Old and frayed wires can cause an electric spark, McMullen warned, and strings showing visible signs of breakage or wear should therefore not be used.
Residents are also reminded not to overload extension cords and power bars – if more outlets are needed, a licensed electrician should install them.
To ensure safety, all decorative lighting should also be turned off at night before people go to bed.
How to get rid of trees safely
Once the holiday season is over, Christmas trees should not be stored in and around the home, especially in a garage, which could have heating sources such as vehicles and heaters, experts say. .
Most municipalities have a Christmas tree recycling program. People should contact their local authorities and dispose of their trees safely in a designated location.
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The maximum time to keep the Christmas tree before it becomes unsafe is “four weeks,” Donaldson said.
“They shouldn’t be left lying around in and around your home until the summer months when you think you’re going to get rid of them yourself,” McMullen said.