Originally posted on December 21, 2021
When you think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not the High Point Fire Department. But for many years, the fire safety officers of the High Point Fire Department worked closely with the High Point Chamber of Commerce and media outlets like WMFR and The High Point Enterprise to promote safe ways to decorate and celebrate.
The High Point Enterprise, 1975
Starting in the late 1930s, warnings about flammable Christmas decorations appeared in the Enterprise. Fire chief Eli K. Ingram called the Christmas tree “a menace.” After World War II, the warnings became more frequent and more detailed, naming combustible ornaments, electric lights, synthetic clothing, and unsafe toys as additional holiday hazards. Even Santa’s whiskers were called out, as his “flowing beard” could “burn with great intensity.”
1947: A typical 1940s Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel.
The High Point Enterprise, 1946
In 1949, Chief Ingram provided fire safety tips for the holidays: use a fresh tree for only a short period of time, stand the tree firmly in a bowl of water, keep trees away from heat sources and doorways, and don’t smoke near trees. He also cautioned against the use of real candles near trees and curtains.
A few years later, the list of recommendations was even longer and included a recipe for a homemade fire-proofing solution for clothing. Chemical sets were popular gifts for children and unsupervised use of them was discouraged. In 1964, the Enterprise published a step-by-step safety checklist for setting up and decorating a Christmas tree.
A message from the fire prevention committee of the High Point Chamber of Commerce in The High Point Enterprise, 1953.
Fire prevention became a major focus of the HPFD in the 1950s, with fire prevention officer T. G. Shelton providing activities and trainings year-round. In 1953, he gave a suggestion that sounds like common sense in 2021: “Don’t buy toys operated by alcohol, kerosene, or gasoline!” As aluminum trees rose in popularity, so did warnings against using electric lights on metal trees.
The High Point Enterprise, 1956
In the 1960s, High Point began to have more fun with fire prevention. The first annual Christmas tree bonfire was held on December 30, 1966, at Albion Millis Stadium. Bands played as over 5,000 trees were fed to a huge fire. The annual bonfire encouraged residents to discard trees before they became too dry and discouraged backyard tree burning, which could spark brush and house fires.
The High Point Enterprise, 1966
1967: Boy Scouts prep trees for Operation Christmas Tree Burn.
1971: Christmas tree collection at Fire Station No. 5. Both photos are from the High Point Fire Department Collection.
1968: Not everyone appreciated the after-Christmas bonfire.
To quote the Enterprise in 1974: “Have a Safer, Merrier Holiday!”
Note: Some of the historic fire safety tips might be outdated. The American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association have up-to-date holiday safety websites:
Contributed by Corinne Midgett, Registrar for the High Point Museum. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.