By Doug Ireland
---- — It’s a sight Salem fire Chief Kevin Breen will never forget.
While responding to a home fire during the holidays some 20 years ago, Breen vividly recalls watching through a picture window as flames engulfed a Christmas tree.
Within seconds, the tree was consumed by the raging fire, he said.
“I could not believe how quickly that became a ball of fire,” Breen said.
Although the Christmas tree didn’t cause the fire, it was a perfect example of what could happen if proper care isn’t taken, he said. A tree that is not regularly watered or is placed too close to a heater or woodstove could lead to a deadly inferno.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates there are an average of 240 fires each year because of Christmas trees and an additional 150 caused by Christmas lights across the country, Breen said.
“The important thing is to keep it watered,” he said. “Trees dry out very quickly.”
That’s why the NFPA recommends Christmas trees be up for no longer than two weeks, Breen said. Otherwise, the trees can become a fire hazard, he said.
Christmas lights should be checked each season to make sure they are not frayed, posing an electrical hazard, Breen said. Lighted candles should also never be placed on or near a tree, he said.
State and local fire officials agree an improperly maintained Christmas tree can led to a fire.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert Farley and Hampstead fire Chief Michael Carrier said once a tree starts to drop numerous needles, it should be taken down.
There’s no specific timetable for how long a typical Christmas tree will last, Farley said.
Blue spruce are known to last longer than varieties such as Douglas fir and balsams he said.
“You should ask the vendors, ‘How long ago was that tree cut?’” he said. “The sooner you can get it in the water, the better.”
Cutting the end of the trunk at least twice will help the tree absorb enough water to keep it fresher longer, he said.