Christmas trees can quickly turn into a flaming inferno if proper precautions aren't taken, officials warn.
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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a reminder to consumers to keep real trees hydrated in order to prevent any potential fires this season. The warning comes as an increasing number of consumers are purchasing trees earlier than normal, especially real evergreens that need to be watered.
However, even consumers buying an artificial tree need to be wary. The CPSC says to make sure the label on an artificial tree says it's fire-resistant.
The warnings are part of a comprehensive list of safety tips issued by the agency to warn consumers about the hazards of holiday decorating, which have accounted for hundreds of tragedies in years past.
According to the latest data from the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas trees are responsible for an average of 160 home fires each year. These fires caused an average of three deaths, 15 injuries and resulted in approximately $10 million in direct property damage annually, according to the NFPA.
Meanwhile, decorations, excluding Christmas trees, accounted for an average of 780 home structure fires, resulting in multiple deaths and $12 million in direct property damage, the NFPA says.
In both cases, officials say heat sources including candles and light equipment were part of the problem.
Aside from making sure the tree is hydrated or flame resistant, the CPSC says consumers should remember to place burning candles in sight and away from flammable items. They should also be blown out before someone leaves a room.
Only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory should be used when decorating. Sets with broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections should be thrown out.
Although it's early in the season, the warning comes as wholesale tree farmers and small "cut-your-own" lots are already reporting strong demand.
“The season is running approximately six to seven days ahead of what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve never seen the demand like we’ve had this year,” said McKenzie Cook, who ships between 1.8 million and 2 million trees a year combined from McKenzie Farms in Oregon and Happy Holiday Christmas Trees in North Carolina.
As demand surges, big box stores are seeking fresh trees up to a week earlier than last year, and Walmart is offering free home delivery for the first time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.