Beverly Hills Fire Chief William Daley says the Christmas season is not only a time for joy but also a time to be careful.
"Every couple of years at this time we have do have a major fire, caused by a Christmas tree, that results in property loss and sometimes injuries," he said.
One such fire, Daley said, destroyed the home of Oscar-winning entertainer Gene Kelly on Dec. 23, 1983. The fire started in the Christmas tree and spread to the rest of the house, causing an estimated $350,000 in damage.
"We arrived at the home within four minutes but there was little we could do," Daley said.
Kelly suffered a small burn on the back of one hand. Tim Kelly, the actor's son who braved smoke and flames to lead his 71-year-old father to safety, suffered minor facial burns.
Each year Daley releases a list of suggestions on how to prevent fires and make Christmas trees safe:
- Buy a firm, fresh tree that is deep green with a strong scent and no falling needles.
- Remove the tree from your home when the branches have become brittle and needles drop off when touched. Never burn a tree or any portion of it in a fireplace.
- Check decorative lighting for frayed wires, broken cords and loose sockets.
- Be sure not to overload the electrical circuits in your home.
- Make sure to turn off the Christmas lights when leaving the home or retiring for the night.
- Make sure the fireplace front is covered by a screen and keep all candles and other open flames away from drapes and furnishings.
In addition to the warnings, Daley said that the city Fire Department will inspect trees in all public places such as hotels, restaurants, bank lobbies, office buildings and churches. Most trees should be treated with flame-retardant material and placed where they do not block aisles or exists.