What can happen when a dry Christmas tree catches on fire? According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), within three seconds of ignition, a dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze. At five seconds, the fire extends up the tree and black smoke with searing gases streaks across the ceiling. Fresh air near the floor feeds the fire. The sofa, coffee table and the carpet ignite prior to any flame contact. Within 40 seconds “flashover” occurs — that’s when an entire room erupts into flames, oxygen is depleted and dense, deadly toxic smoke engulfs the scene. Click on the picture on the right to watch a video showing how destructive a Christmas tree fire can be.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Christmas trees account for 400 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 80 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage. Typically shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start tree fires. Well-watered trees are not a problem. Dry and neglected trees can be. Click on the picture on the right to view a video showing the difference between a well-watered tree and a dry tree.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends the following safety tips:
Picking the tree
• If you have an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire retardant.
• Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
Placing the tree
• Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1? – 2? from the base of the trunk.
• Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
• Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
• Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.
Lighting the tree
• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of LED strands to connect.
• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
• Get rid of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home. Check with your local community to find a recycling program. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.
Lastly, always have working smoke detectors. This could give you early warning that there is a problem, giving you extra precious seconds to evacuate you house.