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Christmas Tree Fire Safety

December 15, 2011

Since ancient times, people have brought evergreen boughs into the house to remind themselves that winter won’t last forever.  Germans are credited as the first to bring an entire tree into the house and decorate it for Christmas in the 16th century (  Today the National Christmas Tree Association estimates 25-30 million Christmas trees will be sold in the U.S.  That’s a lot of indoor timber!

The U.S. Fire Administration indicates Christmas trees account for 250 fires and $13.8 million in damages each year.  Most ignitions are from shorts in lights, candles, lighters, and matches.  While 250 fires per year is not a large number for the whole U.S., the consequences are sobering.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) indicates that one in nine Christmas tree fires result in a fatality.  Most U.S. fires result in one fatality for every 75 fires.  So the stakes are a bit higher with Christmas tree fires.

NIST ran tests with Christmas trees and found that when properly cared for, Christmas trees can be tough to ignite.  In fact, they couldn’t light a properly watered Scotch Pine with a match.  Next they used an electrical short capable of igniting an entire match book.  Still no effect on the watered tree.  Finally they used a propane torch.  The branches ignited briefly but self-extinguished when the torch was removed.  Clearly a green watered tree is good insurance.

Another thing to consider is the amount of fuel stacked around the base of your Christmas tree.  Cardboard boxes wrapped in paper create a large fuel load around that evergreen tree in your living room.

So how did the researchers at NIST care for their tree?

  1. Cut an additional two inches from the butt of the trunk when you get it home.
  2. Keep the tree in water constantly.  Check it daily.  Don’t let the reservoir dry out.
  3. Ensure needles are green and pliable.

Trees with brown needles, that fall from the tree when shaken, and break when bent react MUCH differently when exposed to ignition sources.  If your tree gets this dry, replace it. It’s a hassle (my family had to do that once), but so is living elsewhere while your burned house gets remodeled.

We’ve got links to two videos for you today.  The first is a side-by-side comparison of the NIST Christmas tree test.  As you can see, the moist green tree fairs considerably better.

The second video shows how the average furnished living room will behave when a dry tree goes up.

We hope your family has a great Christmas!  And we hope we don’t have to visit.

If you’ve got questions about holiday fire safety, you can post them here, or e-mail, or call 509-466-4602.

REFERENCES  (n.d.).  History of Christmas trees.  Retrieved December 14, 2011, from

National Christmas Tree Association.  (n.d.).  Quick tree facts.  Retrieved December 14, 2011, from

National Institute of Standards and Technology.  (2010).  Fire safety for the holidays.  Retrieved December 6, 2011, from

United States Fire Administration .  (n.d.).  Christmas tree fire hazards.  Retrieved December 14, 2011, from


From → Fire Prevention

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