Safety Tips for Christmas Trees

With Christmas fast approaching, millions of Americans are starting to decorate their homes for the holidays, but fire safety experts warn that it is also the season of Christmas tree fires.

Each year, more than 300 home fires and about $8 million in property damage are caused by Christmas tree fires.

A shorted wire on holiday lights wrapped around a dry Christmas tree with piles of presents underneath can quickly catch fire, engulfing a room in less than 90 seconds, said Fire Chief John Brown of the Nassau Country Fire Training Center in Huntington, N.Y.

Good Morning America's consumer correspondent, Greg Hunter, explains how you can avoid holiday dangers in the home by picking the right tree, being careful with candles and by looking for the UL symbol on lights.

Water Your Tree

If you buy a tree fresh and water it often, it is less likely to burn. If the needles are fresh, they'll be sticky and rubbery and hard to pull off. If they're not fresh, they'll be dry and brittle and fall right off. Fill the tree's stand with water every day. The stand should never go dry.

Brown also recommends that the bottom of trees be cut off, to stop the sap from dripping.

Another important tip: Make sure that the Christmas tree doesn't block the exits. In case of an emergency, you will need a quick route to the door.

Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over. If you buy an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled as fire-retardant. Children are fascinated with Christmas trees, so keep a watchful eye on them when around the tree and do not let them play with the wiring or lights.

Make sure the tree is at least three feet (one meter) away from any heat source and try to position it near an outlet so that cords are not running long distances.

Lighting Hazards

Keep candles away from tree. You should not even burn them in the same room as the tree, Hunter said. And make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy in the house at all times.

Use lights that have a UL symbol on the box, meaning they are marked for indoor use, and have been tested by an independent laboratory.

Do not use any string of lights with worn, frayed or broken cords or loose bulb connections.

Never use electric lights on a metal tree.

Use fire-safe decorations on the tree. They should be fire-retardant and fire-rated.

You should not string more than three sets of lights together per extension cord. It may overload when you leave the house or go to sleep, so turn the lights off, Hunter said.