Pining way

—Bob Humbug

A: I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, Bob, but perhaps ‘tis the season to finally purchase a faux Christmas tree—at least in the Old Dominion. Seems like the State agrees with PETA that fir is dead, at least in public places.

 Last October the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development altered the state fire prevention code. One of the results was a cutting down of the places where you can put up a real, live Xmas tree. Holiday-minded homeowners, remain calm: You can keep your trees in your living room ’til the needles fall off. But in most public places, you’ve gotta have an automatic sprinkler system if you a want fresh-cut Scotch pine, blue spruce or one of the Fraser and Douglas fir twins to legally adorn your building this holiday season. We’re talking nightclubs, restaurants schools up through the 12th grade, stores, hotels, dormitories, fraternities and sororities.

 Sprinklers notwithstanding, child and adult care facilities and prisons are not permitted to have a natural tree at all. Too bad for Grandpa Atkins, Ace might have to go to the home and hang lights on the coat rack this year instead.

 There is some good news on the Christmas crackdown. According to Tamra Talmadge-Anderson, public relations director of the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development, the board voted this past May to allow places of worship and individual apartments to have natural trees, sprinkler systems or not.

 So the big question: How will the Christmas tree fire code be enforced? Will cops bust down your door screaming, “Step away from the blue spruce! Put down the garlands and twinkly lights!”? Not quite. Bob Lowry, the assistant chief of fire prevention and Albemarle County’s fire marshal, says that his fire department won’t be searching out cases of infraction, but will be responding to complaints and illegal tree sightings.

 Regarding the penalty for a prohibited pine, Lowry says, “We have always been able to work with folks, and if we find a natural tree in an inappropriate place, either the people didn’t know about the code or they remove the tree. We have yet to take someone to court.”

 Dude, that would not be a Merry Christmas. So, Herr Humbug, if your fraternity is not outfitted with sprinklers, either fake it or explore other holiday celebrations. So far as we know you’re still cool for nativity scenes, menorahs or Kwanzaa kinara candleholder.


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