Fire chief offers safety tips for the holidays


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the Seymour Fire Department wants to make sure residents use safety when decorating for the holidays.

Fires related to real Christmas trees are rare, but the National Fire Protection Association data show more than 200 Christmas tree fires are reported each year.

The data shows one in 32 fires involving a Christmas tree includes a fatality. That’s higher than the average fire incident, which is one in 143.

There are a few things residents can do to limit the risk of fire if they have a real Christmas tree, Chief Brad Lucas said.

It all begins with picking out the right tree. If you buy a tree that has already been cut, firefighters encourage you to run your hands across branches.

If a lot of needles fall off, or if there are a lot of brown needles, then the tree is already too dry, Lucas said.

“The needles should be green and kind of fresh and wet feeling,” he said. “If it’s too dry, it’s probably not a good idea to take it home and set it in your living room for a few weeks.”

Once you pick out a tree, you should cut a few inches of the hardened part from the base.

The most important thing? Water the tree and make sure there’s a big enough water supply.

“It depends on how big the tree is, so the bigger the base, the larger water holder you need,” Lucas said. “A tree is like a straw. When you look in the morning, it will be full, and by evening, it’s almost dry.”

Christmas tree fires can start a variety of ways and the most common has to do with electrical issues. A third of Christmas tree fires start with an electrical issue, according to the NFPA.

Lucas said many people string multiple strands of lights around the tree, and if there’s a bad connection, it could pose a threat.

Other heat sources like candles, space heaters, lamps and electrical appliances pose danger and should be kept 3 feet away, Lucas said.

Vents can contribute to issues with trees, Lucas said.

“The vents won’t necessarily start the fires, but they will dry them out quicker,” he said. “You should keep your tree at least 3 feet away.”

Once fires start, it quickly consumes the tree and catches surrounding items on fire quickly, too.

A video by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows an unwatered Christmas tree can be fully consumed by fire and spread to other areas in less than 30 seconds. In less than 40 seconds, other parts of the room are fully engulfed in flames.

Lucas said he has seen several fires throughout his time as a firefighter.

“I’ve seen several fires in my 37-year career started by Christmas trees,” he said. “It’s not something you see a lot of, but they happen.”

A fire caused more than $2,000 worth of damage at a home in Mutton Creek Estates on Dec. 29, 1992. No injuries were reported in that incident.

Christmas tree fires are not the only concern this time of the year. Residents need to make sure they don’t overload electrical circuits while displaying other decorations.

“That’s easy to do when you’re trying to have a bunch of lights,” Lucas said.

Residents should make sure decorations are compatible with electrical sources and to make sure to have proper power strips, too.

“Make sure there’s an overload protection on it,” he said.

You know you’ve plugged too many things in when the circuit breaker flips the sources off or when fuses blow.

“Don’t just throw the breaker back or replace fuses,” Lucas said. “You need to find out what the problem is and crack it. Call an electrician.”

Lucas said residents should make sure smoke detectors are working, too.

He encouraged residents to call the department, message its Facebook page or stop by with questions and firefighters can help.

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Tips to avoid Christmas-related fires this season.

Questions? Call the Seymour Fire Department at 812-522-2598, stop by Station 1 at 318 E. St., or message the department’s Facebook page (Just search for "Seymour Fire Department")

Picking out a tree

• Choose one with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing the tree

• Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the tree.

• Make sure the tree is at least 3 feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.

• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.

• Add water to the tree stand daily.

Lighting the tree

• Use lights that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.

• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

After Christmas

Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home.

Check with your local community to find a recycling program.

Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

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To view the video referenced in this article, read it online at and click on the hyperlink.

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