Christmas trees are a holiday symbol of life in the middle of winter. But as Anaheim firefighters demonstrated Friday, trees improperly cared for can be a deadly hazard.
To illustrate the danger, a dried-out Christmas tree was ignited at the city's Fire Training Center near Anaheim Stadium to simulate an accident caused by a faulty electrical cord.
"It's very explosive," fire inspector Robyn Halesworth said, pointing out that fire can consume a dry tree in as little as 30 seconds. "And whatever is near the tree, it will take with it."
According to 20 years of statistics compiled by the state fire marshal, the two deadliest holiday seasons were in 1990-91 and 1978-79. In each, six people died in California as a result of Christmas tree fires.
The safest practice is to buy a potted, live tree, Halesworth said, or an artificial, fire-resistant one. If a cut tree is purchased, fire safety officials recommend the following procedures:
* Choose a fresh tree that is not shedding needles.
* Keep the water level in the stand above the cut end of the trunk. Otherwise a seal will form and the tree will be unable to absorb moisture.
* Do not block exits with the tree or rearranged furniture.
* Decorate the tree with no more than three strings of miniature lights, which produce less heat than the larger outdoor Christmas lights.
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Once a Christmas tree is brought inside, the heat of the house increases the speed at which it dries out. Here's how to keep your live, cut tree fresher and more fire-resistant:
Before taking tree inside, cut 2 to 3 inches off bottom of trunk; immediately place in a bucket of water to prevent pores from resealing.
Tree stand should hold at least one gallon of water; average tree consumes between a quart and a gallon of water each day.
Place tree away from heat sources such as windows, fireplaces, heating vents and televisions.
Inspect lights for cracks, fraying or broken sockets; turn off lights before leaving house or going to bed. Never light a tree with candles.
Remove tree promptly after Christmas; do not burn in fireplace or outdoors.
Trees can be taken to several local parks for mulching or left at curbside on collection days.
Source: Anaheim Fire Department