Missoula fire officials offer up holiday safety tips

Posted at 5:46 PM, Dec 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-09 20:58:37-05

MISSOULA – There are over 1,000 home structure fires that involve decorations, candles and Christmas trees every year.

The Missoula Rural Fire District is passing along information to help people be safe and happy this holiday season.

About 200 home fires are started every year by Christmas trees and on Friday, the MRFD conducted a Christmas tree fire safety demonstration.

Firefighters put together a mock Christmas living room, complete with decorations, presents and a comfy recliner — then they set it on fire.

MRFD Fire Chief Chris Newman said a dried out tree burns fast and can cause a lot of damage.

“You can definitely tell from the video footage how quick that happened. I believe it was under four minutes until we started putting it out,” Newman said.

“So you can imagine that smoke and heat in someone’s home, how devastating that would be.”

Captain Ron Lubke says you should make sure your smoke detectors are working properly, “it’s a fun time of year for everyone but it can easily become a tragic time too.”

You can stay safe over the holidays by taking necessary precautions.

Choose a tree that has fresh, green needles and water it daily. Keep it at least three feet away from heat sources, like heaters and candles.

Don’t block any exits, and remember to turn off the lights when they’re not being used.

Fires can also be prevented by using flame- resistant decorations and being careful about lighting candles, especially when using a menorah or kinara.

“We certainly want everyone to have a happy holiday and a safe one and be careful out there,” Lubke said.

Fire officials also want to remind people how quickly the holidays can become dangerous, and remind folks to be careful.

Captain Newman says they don’t actually see a lot of Christmas tree fires, but there are calls every year around the holidays.

-Katie Miller reporting for MTN News

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC suggests following these tips to make your holiday a safe one: 


  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “Fire Resistant.” Although this label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.


  • Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, which indicates conformance with safety standards.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
  • For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.


  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
  • Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass “angel hair.” Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays.


  • Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.