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There's nothing like traipsing through a Christmas tree lot, surrounded by fresh greenery and breathing in that fresh pine scent — an experience Charlie Brown would have appreciated. But while you search for the perfect tree, don't judge by beauty alone. Look for one that's fresh and moist — which means it's less likely to catch fire in your home.

A flaming tree won't just ruin your holiday. Tree fires are three and a half times more likely than other types of home fires to result in death, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency .

Here’s what to consider before you settle on this year's tree.

Know how high and wide you can go. Before you shop for a tree, measure the floor space where you plan to put it. Trees look smaller when sitting in a lot under the open sky, the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) says. You don't want to take it home only to find the bottom branches reach all the way to the wall heater. Also measure the width of your door to make sure the tree will fit through.

Related: Be Tree Smart This Christmas


Test for freshness. A fresh tree will be moist and therefore less flammable. When you find a tree you like, "run your hand along the branches. If you end up with a handful of needles, it's too dry and should stay on the lot,” says John Drengenberg , consumer safety director at UL. If the tree sheds only a needle or two, and these don't break between your fingers, it's fresh.

In addition, the bottom of the tree should be sticky with resin, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission . If you notice brown needles, missing needles or wrinkled bark, or if you smell a musty odor, leave that tree at the lot, advises the NCTA.


Take a history. Recently cut trees tend to have more moisture. Ask the manager how long ago your chosen tree arrived on the lot. Some lots bring trees in just once at the beginning of the season, while others receive deliveries throughout the season, the NCTA explains. If the lot stocks more than one type of tree, such as firs and pines, ask which one lasts the longest in your climate.


Request a cut. Once you've chosen a tree, have the salesperson cut an inch or two off the bottom of the trunk, advises Drengenberg. “That opens up the wood to absorb more water,” he explains.


Related: Disaster-Proof Your Holiday Decor

Consider your family's allergies. Some species can aggravate allergies more than others. For example, junipers and cedars can pollinate in the winter, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. White pines are less aromatic and may offer you a less-sneezy holiday experience. Artificial trees can make for an allergy-free substitute, but only if they're not coated with scents or artificial snow.

Related: Disaster-Proof Your Holiday Decor


Consider your family's allergies. Some species can aggravate allergies more than others. For example, junipers and cedars can pollinate in the winter, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America . White pines are less aromatic and may offer you a less-sneezy holiday experience. Artificial trees can make for an allergy-free substitute, but only if they're not coated with scents or artificial snow.

If you plan to fake it

Like real trees, artificial trees are potential fire hazards. This is especially true of pre-lit models. Look for one that's labeled “fire resistant,” but keep in mind fire resistant isn't the same as fireproof. “A fire-resistant tree can still ignite,” says Drengenberg. For this reason, UL has researched and developed safety requirements for pre-lit trees . “Look for the UL mark on pre-lit artificial trees,” he says. “Major retailers now have UL certified artificial pre-lit trees in stock.”

Related: Fire Up the Oven (Not the House) This Holiday

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David Arv Bragi is a freelance journalist and marketing consultant. He has been writing about health and safety issues since the 1990s and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.