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A Fire-Safe Christmas Tree

Here’s how to keep your tree fresh, green and safe

A freshly cut Christmas tree that is properly cared for is a fire-safe Christmas tree.
    Every year, many house fires are caused by Christmas trees. Avoid such a tragedy by following a few simple rules.
    The freshest cut Christmas tree is the one you cut yourself. Thus the advantage of tree farms where you can make selecting and cutting your Christmas tree a family affair.
    In 1996, the State of Maryland Fire Marshal’s Office selected Douglas fir, Scots pine and Colorado spruce as the most fire-safe tree species available in Maryland. Even when these species were stored at room temperature and out of water for four weeks, they were slow to ignite. Stored in water, all three species were difficult to ignite.
    If you plan to purchase your Christmas tree from the corner lot, select your tree the first week it opens. Many Christmas-tree growers from surrounding states start cutting trees November 1. Even though the trees are stored in shaded woods, sheds or barns, they start losing water the minute they are cut. More water is lost in the sales lot, where trees may stand spaced apart in full sun.  
    To select that perfect tree, visit the Christmas tree lot during the day when the lighting is good. Before selecting your tree, bounce the base on the ground hard and look for falling green needles. Bend the branches sharply. If the branches break, keep looking. Pull on the needles, especially those on the bottom branches; if they are easily removed, keep looking. Check the surface of the cut stump. If you see a thick coating of pitch, keep looking.
    To reduce the amount of water lost through the foliage while transporting your tree home, have it sacked in mesh or wrap it in an old bed sheet or canvas before lifting it on to the roof of the car. Letting 60-mile-per-hour wind blow through the branches and needles will cause severe water loss.
    As soon as you arrive home, cut an inch from the trunk of the tree and immediately immerse it in a basin of 100-degree water. Placing the freshly cut trunk in hot water, rather than cold, forces the tree to absorb additional water.
    Store the tree on the north side of the house or garage so it is in full shade at all times to further reduce the loss of water. Check the water level in the basin weekly to make certain that the stump is in water at all times.
    Before bringing the tree indoors for decorating, cut another inch from the base and again immediately submerge the stump in 100-degree water. Although the tree stump has been in water while in storage, slime mold, fungi and pitch have sealed the cut, reducing water uptake. Using a galvanized tree stand will help prevent fungi and slime mold from coating the cut surface as the zinc in the container has anti-microbial properties.
    Avoid placing the Christmas tree near a fireplace or wood stove, heat register or radiator. If you have baseboard heat, cover the vents with aluminum foil in the area behind the tree. Only use UL-approved decorating lights, and never leave a lighted tree alone.
    May your tree be fresh and your Christmas safe.
    Find choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms at ­pickyourownchristmastre.org/MDxmastrees.php; ­Marylandsbest.net; Marylandchristmastrees.org.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.