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NOBLE PRIZES YULE TREE GROWS IN POPULARITY, COST.

Byline: Jason Kandel Staff Writer

Even with Christmas still 28 days away, Martha Parker rushed out to get her tree Tuesday, one of those popular noble firs that were so hard to find last year.

To prepare for this weekend's expected crush of customers and rising demand for nobles, sellers said they have grown 5 percent more this year, but they warn prices could be higher at some lots.

Parker didn't care.

``I want to get it while it's fresh, and get it in water so that it lasts awhile,'' said the Reseda resident, as she bought her 6-foot noble for $32.90, or $3 more than last year.

As Parker finished buying her tree, workers at Home Depot began the tedious process of unloading bundles of Douglas, noble and grand firs in anticipation of the weekend crush.

``It's slow now, but stand by: It's gonna be a madhouse,'' said Danny Andrade, a Home Depot employee who volunteered to work the coveted Christmas tree lot.

Predicting a hot season for noble firs, the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association said tree farmers expect to grow 5 percent more of them. Noble firs now account for about half of all trees grown for Christmas, according to the association, based in Salem, Ore.

``The higher demand for the noble fir will impact the prices of all species of trees,'' said association spokeswoman Melissa Love. ``They will charge higher prices, because they can get it. For a lot of years, it was the other way around: Growers could hardly give their trees away.''

Yet, even with the increase in noble fir shipments and prices, local lot managers and owners said they fear their noble supplies will not last.

``They can't grow them fast enough,'' said Joe Kelly, manager of the Stu Miller Christmas Tree Lot at Victory Boulevard and De Soto Avenue in Woodland Hills. ``We have a shipment coming in sometime this week. They've got 15 lots to go to. I don't know how much we'll get.''

Manuel Santiago, manager/owner of Mr. Christmas Trees at Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Warner Center, agreed.

``We can't get as many nobles as we want,'' he said. ``We've been struggling to get more nobles.''

Some lots have raised their prices, citing higher trucker wages and gas prices.

``Everybody's raising their prices,'' said Santiago, who is charging between $5 and $10 more than for his 1999 supplies.

His 4-foot to 5-foot nobles (the shortest trees) cost $39.99. The tallest nobles (11 to 12 feet) were $249.99.

Some lots, like Home Depot in Woodland Hills on the other hand, sold 6- to 7-foot nobles for $32.90. Their 8- to 9-foot nobles sold for $64.90.

Parker said she bought a noble fir because of its longevity and strength. ``The branches are sturdier, and you can hang heavier ornaments on them,'' she said. ``They don't get all droopy.''

Firefighters say many residents follow the notion that one tree is better than another tree. But they warn: They are all combustible.

``None of them is more fire-resistant than the other,'' said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.

The Fire Department responds to dozens of Christmas-tree related fires every year. And that doesn't include problems with trees that occur before they ever hit someone's living room.

``The highways and byways are littered with trees that are not fastened properly. When you go to a lot, the best thing to do is to take plenty of rope, or twine.''

TREE TIPS

To keep your Christmas tree fresh and safe from fire through Christmas, firefighters recommend the following:

--Find fresh trees by grasping the branches and pulling. Few, if any, needles should come off.

--Remember that the color of the tree is not a valid indicator. Many are sprayed with dye or flocked.

--Ask workers to make a fresh cut on the base of the tree.

--Put the tree in water within 90 minutes of being cut and water tree at least once a day.

--Do not put trees next to fireplaces and heaters.

--Use lights with timers or remote switches, and test strings of lights before wrapping them around trees.

--Inspect lights for loose, broken or missing bulbs.

--Use small bulbs; they burn cooler.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Manuel Santiago flocks a Christmas tree Tuesday at the Woodland Hills lot he and his son own.

(2) Martha Parker of Reseda lugs a noble fir out for a closer look Tuesday at the Home Depot tree lot in Woodland Hills.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

Box: TREE TIPS (See text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 29, 2000
Words:764
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