Published on 12/15/04

Holiday greenery can be a fire hazard

By Chowning Johnson
University of Georgia

The fire is lit, candles are burning and greenery is lining your mantle piece. Your holiday home may look like a Martha Stewart creation, but it can be a fire hazard.

Dona Johnson of Nashville, Tenn., knows firsthand. She had lined her mantle with fresh-cut greenery and lit candles for her holiday party. While she was entertaining guests in the other room, the greenery caught fire.

"I was so shocked," Johnson said. "We thought it was safe because we placed the candles away from everything else. But they had burned down, and the artificial decorations melted, igniting the greenery."

Luckily for Johnson and her family, one of the children smelled smoke right away, and the flames that covered their entire mantle were extinguished. They left only a black mark on the wood above the mantle.

Prevent holiday fire

The holidays are a dangerous time for household fires.

"Dry, brittle greenery only needs one spark to go up in flames," said Kim Coder, a forester with the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forest Resources. "Greenery dries extremely fast and becomes extremely flammable."

The first key to keeping your holiday greenery safe is replacing it every week. If the needles bend, they're still fresh. But if they break, they're dry and need to be replaced, Coder said.

Your greenery may be fresh, but that doesn't mean it's flame-retardant. It's important to keep in mind that fresh greenery, like dry greenery, is still susceptible to fire.

What to do

Keep greenery cut from a live source in water until it's ready for use. Or dip the cut ends in wax.

"Treat it like fresh flowers," Coder said. "Commercial sprays are available that won't make it fireproof but will make it much more fire-resistant."

An open flame is not the only hazard to your greenery. Space heaters and other heat sources are also a threat.

"Always keep space heaters or any heat source pointed toward the center of the room and away from any greenery or Christmas tree," Coder said.

Silk flowers or other decorations at the base of candlesticks or wreaths can catch fire or melt, too. Plastic can melt and catch other flammable items like greenery on fire, Coder said.

"Be very fire-conscious when you bring the forest inside," Coder said. "Forests do burn from time to time. And you don't want that to happen inside your home."

(Chowning Johnson is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Rebecca Ayer is an information specialist with the University of Georgia Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute.

Chowning Johnson is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.