Don’t let your Christmas gift (wrappings) go up in smoke

A question arises after all the Christmas presents have been opened: What to do with the residue of ripped wrapping paper?

It might seem like a good idea to gather all the debris of bows and gift wrap, march out into the yard and start a bonfire.

Or maybe, toss tissues and torn gift wraps into the fireplace and let yule log flames help clean up after Santa’s visit.

But don’t.

Not only is it against the law, the open burning of wrapping paper and manmade packaging is dangerous.

“Several years ago we had woods catch on fire because people were burning used wrappings,” said Daryl Manning, of the Georgia Forestry Commission’s Walker County Unit in LaFayette. “People will go out and burn boxes without thinking of flying embers.”

Ranger 1 Ken Poteet of the GFC’s Catoosa/Whitfield Unit said “most everybody knows it [wrapping paper] is a hazardous, manmade material that means it is illegal to burn anywhere in the state of Georgia.”

Aside from the legal issues involved, Poteet pointed out that drought conditions expanded across the entire state in November, increasing the risk of wild fires. And recent rains, while helpful, have not reversed what has been a warm, dry year.

A report prepared by the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences finds November’s average temperatures ranged from 1 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal. At the same time, rainfall was uniformly more than 1.8 inches below normal with most of the state receiving less than half the amount of rainfall typical for November.

While it might make outdoor burning risky, drought has nothing to do with the dangers presented by burning Christmas gift wrap in a fireplace.

Capt. Traci Napier Reece, fire and life safety educator with Walker County Emergency Services, points out that fireplaces are made to burn wood or coal, not paper.

“Wood that has been air-dried to burn in a fireplace typically contains about 20 percent moisture,” she said. “That moisture has to boil off during burning which slows combustion.

“Wrapping paper, on the other hand, contains less than 5 percent moisture, causing it to burn more quickly. And because its surface-to-mass ratio is higher than wood, the paper flares up, which sends a rush of heat up the chimney. If the chimney has not been cleaned regularly, it could have a buildup of creosote or resin, and if the paper burns higher and hotter than normal, the buildup inside the chimney could easily ignite.”

Danger is not past even if the chimney does not catch fire.

Capt. Reece said that because paper does not burn as completely as wood, it sends little flaming pieces up the chimney, burning pieces that could land on the roof (yours or your neighbors’) and spark a fire.

“Lastly, compliments of the dyes and inks used on the paper, fumes from the burning wrapping paper are toxic,” she said.

“Your safest bet is to find a fun project to turn that wrapping paper into an earth-friendly craft! Check out sites like Pinterest or eHow for fun, useful ways to give your wrapping paper new life.”

Catoosa County Fire Department Battalion Chief Steven Quinn said it is necessary to be diligent about fire safety throughout the winter, not just during the Christmas holidays.

Extension cords can be dangerous if improperly used, and safe distances should be maintained between any heat source — candles, fireplaces, wood stoves and heaters — and flammable materials like drapes or decorations.

Cut Christmas trees should be monitored carefully if used indoors, Quinn said.

“Don’t forget to keep live, cut trees well watered,” he said. “It only takes about 10 seconds for a Christmas tree to burn completely.”

Quinn said it is fairly common for firefighters to be called to battle a blaze that started from someone cleaning ashes from a fireplace but who failed to make certain every coal they dispose of was extinguished completely.

“They’ll look out and see a fire burning in their backyard or woods,” he said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.