Keeping your Christmas tree from becoming a fire hazard

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SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Christmas trees are a holiday tradition for many but that tradition could be putting your family in danger if not cared for correctly.

For many, Christmas is all about getting into the festive spirit, with stockings, Christmas lights, and of course a Christmas tree. While waking up to a beautiful Christmas tree may get in the Christmas spirit, many don't realize the responsibility that they come with.

"It's a tradition for people to have a tree in their home but what happens a lot of times is, especially if you're using a live tree, is people forget to water it. It's like a big plant in your house," South Walton Fire District Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez said.

That's why South Walton Fire District officials demonstrated the dangers if you don't maintain your tree.

"You turn your heater on throughout the month and it dries it out and when it dries it out, really what you're doing is adding, so to speak, fuel to the fire," Sanchez said. "Once it starts dying and the needles start falling off, then it's really time to replace it."

Within a matter of moments a dry Christmas tree can become engulfed in flames, leaving nothing but ashes behind.

Sanchez continued, "It's vertical fuel. So as the fire burns rapidly making its way to the top," Sanchez explained, "and in a house it will hit that ceiling and really catch anything else that's around it on fire and bank off the ceiling and cause a lot of smoke."

Once you start piling presents all around, it may be difficult to get to the base of the tree.

"I think leave yourself a little bit of space. They recommned watering your tree basically every day. Especially if it's indoors," said Sanchez. "You're taking a live tree from outside and bringing it inside, so you have to maintain it, water it everyday, keep combustibles or anything flammable away from it if possible. You want to keep space heaters at least three feet away from it and definitely if you have any electrical wiring or electrical Christmas lights on it that are shorting out, you definitely don't want to use those on it."

Sanchez also recommends turning your Christmas lights off each night before bed.

"We're hoping that if there is a short circuit, that you're able to catch it while you're still awake. If you leave your lights on at night, you may not," Sanchez explained.

Although he said watering your tree may not prevent this from happening to you, it will at least lower your chances in case something goes wrong.

"[The tree] didn't take but just less than a minute or so and for the whole thing ignited," said Sanchez. "If you can imagine that in your home and the effects that would have on you and your family during the holidays, so fires are always bad, but especially during the holidays."

Officials say this is also a great time to check your smoke detectors and replace the batteries if needed.