Real of artificial Christmas tree debate continues

Real or artificial? Each year the great Christmas tree debate continues.

"Leave the real trees in the forest where they will do us some good," said Mike Baratta.

"Artificial trees look and smell like real trees now."

Kay Davis agrees.

"I don't want a real tree.

I like real trees in the woods, but not in my house," Davis said.

"An artificial tree saves money, and I don't have to clean up dry pine needles."

Wilma Althouse usually travels during the holidays, but this year she is staying home for Christmas.

"This will be the first year I will be home for Christmas in 20 years," she said.

"I am getting just a little artificial tree I can save."

However, Kat Trobaugh has another take on Christmas trees.

"I favor a real tree," she said.

"I think the pine scent puts us more in a Christmas mood in our household, and a real tree has more of a religious significance during the holidays."

Ethel Foley loves the pine smell of a freshly cut tree during the holidays.

The problem, she added, is that the tree dries out before Dec.

25, leaving dry pine needles and creating a fire hazard.

Last year, for the first time she said, she considered purchasing an artificial tree with lights and decorations already on it.

She is not alone.

Gary Bokath, the manager of a local discount store, said the store sells more artificial trees every year.

"You can hardly tell the difference between a fresh-cut tree and an artificial tree by looking at it, and an artificial tree can save money because it can be used again and again," Bokath said.

A "fake" tree also has the added safety feature of being more resistant to fire than a real tree.

No matter what type of tree is preferred, the potential for Christmas tree fires can make the season less joyful than it should be.

But there are ways to ensure an accident-free holiday, according to experts.

"We urge people to use an artificial tree or a live potted tree.

A cut tree is inherently dangerous.

We have responded on numerous occasions to Christmas tree fires," Capt.

Bill Johnston of the Kingman Fire Department said.

"If an artificial tree is used it should be made of flame-retardant material.

If a cut tree is used it should be fresh," Johnston said.

"Look for the freshest tree on the lot.

Trees that have been tied up and stored together will be fresher than one that is already standing," he said.

"Grab a branch and gently pull; if a lot of needles come off, it is not fresh."

Residents choosing a live tree can spray it with a flame-retardant material but should not think it is perfectly safe, Johnston added.

In fact, he said, any commercial establishment that decides on a live-cut Christmas tree must spray the tree with the retardant before it is decorated for display.

Someone from the fire department will then inspect it.

"There are more stringent code requirements for businesses.

We inspect between 15 to 20 trees a year at business locations," he said.

He suggested sawing about 2 inches off the trunk before placing it in a tree stand filled with water, and checking the water level daily, never letting it run dry.

Johnston also advises people to set trees away from exits and any source of heat, such as radiators, fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.

"Make sure to check the tree daily to make sure it is not drying out.

Some trees are cut in October and they will dry out faster.

If so, the tree must be replaced," he said.

When decorating the tree, he added, use only UL-approved indoor lights with the cord and bulbs in good condition, plugging no more than three strands in one electric outlet.

It is especially important to watch for frayed cords with an artificial metal tree.

Safety is equally as important when hanging outdoor decorations.

"Use only UL-approved outdoor Christmas lights, and never hang bulbs on metal fences and be careful on ladders and roofs when hanging outdoor lights," advised Johnston.

The Safe America Foundation offers the following additional safety tips:

• Check old holiday light sets each year for cracks, frayed sections or broken wires before hanging them.

Never use decorative "indoor" light strings outdoors.

• Unplug all electrical decorations when leaving the house or going to bed.

• Do not use electric lights on metallic trees.

Shine spotlights on them instead.

• Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers make thoughtful holiday gifts.

• Keep candles, lighting wires and decorations out of children's reach.

Avoid decorations that resemble candy or food.