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Deck the halls, safely

Row of fresh cut green trees at Christmas tree farm

November 28, 2017

We’ve all heard the safety warnings about real Christmas trees: they can be a fire risk so make sure they are well-watered and keep a careful eye on them. But did you know that artificial trees can also be fire hazards?

In fact, according to research conducted by UL, some artificial trees –including pre-lit trees - can contribute to the rapid growth of a fire in a similar fashion to that of a dried-out natural tree. This problem is compounded by lack of awareness about the potential risk since artificial trees are typically marketed as “flame retardant,” which simply indicates a product that burns slowly – not that it doesn’t burn at all, or is “flame resistant.”

Neither real or artificial trees will burst into flames without being ignited. That’s why it’s important to be informed and careful about products such as lights, fireplace sparks and candles that can cause a tree to ignite and burn.

Keeping a real tree from drying out also helps reduce the risk of fire should the tree be exposed to a spark or another ignition source. A dry tree will catch fire – and burn faster – than a well-watered live tree will.

Related , How to Choose a Fire-Safe Christmas Tree


A demonstration showing how flammable a dry Christmas tree can be as opposed to a tree watered regularly. This test was conducted by the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories.

Obviously, you can’t make an artificial tree less likely to ignite by watering them. But there are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of an artificial tree fire. First and foremost, when buying a pre-lit artificial tree, look for the UL Mark on tree boxes or product description tags in stores and online that will say that the complete tree is UL Certified.  This will mean that the combination of the tree and the lights employed have been evaluated for fire and shock hazards.  At the very least, ensure that the pre-lit tree employs UL Certified lighting strings.

Follow these tips to help reduce fire risks no matter what type of tree you have:

  1. When using light strings on an artificial tree that is not pre-lit, check to make sure that UL certified the light strings by looking for a gold holographic UL label on the product.
  2. Note that the green UL Mark found on the gold holographic label of a light string means that the lights have been evaluated for indoor use only. The red UL Mark found on the gold holographic label means that the lights have been evaluated for indoor/outdoor use. You can also check the Caution Tag, located near the plug for the intended use of the light string.
  3. When removing lights from storage, inspect the strings for broken or cracked lamp holders, frayed or bare wires and loose connections. Replace any damaged light strings with new UL Certified light strings.
  4. When connecting multiple light strings follow the instructions in the user manual or on the tag on the string near the plug. LED light strings and traditional light strings that might include larger screw-in (C9 and C7) bulbs that have different electrical ratings, so read those instructions and follow them.
  5. When replacing burned out or missing lamps, replace with the type and rating of the lamp indicated on the Caution Tag. Even though a lamp fits or lights, if the rating, both voltage and wattage, is not correct, it can cause a potential hazard.  For push-in lamp type strings, the string will be provided with spare lamps.
  6. Decorate your holiday tree in moderation. Overuse of combustible decorations will make a tree more flammable.
  7. Don’t keep trees in the house after they have begun to dry – watering won’t preserve the tree forever - and dispose of them properly, so you don’t create an outdoor fire risk.
  8. Never use lit candles or sparklers to decorate the tree.
  9. Extinguish candles and make sure they are completely out and the wick embers are no longer glowing before leaving the room or going to sleep. Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  10. Display candles and other holiday lighting/electronic decorations well out of the reach of children and pets. And even so, never leave children or pets alone in a room with lit candles.
  11. Use sturdy, non-combustible candleholders that collect dripping wax and won't tip over.
  12. Don't place candles near curtains, bedding, paper, walls or any combustible materials, such as decorations and window treatments … or your Christmas tree!