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Fire officials offer sage advice for holiday season

By Christopher Roberson - Staff Writer | Dec 4, 2023

Fire officials warn that a dry Christmas tree will become engulfed in flames in as little as 40 seconds. Courtesy photo

Although a fully-decorated Christmas tree is a beautiful sight to behold, it can also be a catastrophe waiting to happen.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, even the smallest spark will set a dry tree ablaze. The porous nature of a Christmas tree will draw more oxygen, causing it to burn faster than newspaper. A deadly flashover can occur just 40 seconds after the fire starts. In contrast, it typically takes three minutes for residents to escape from a burning home.

“Live Christmas trees can be powerful fuel sources, especially when dry,” said James Shanley, a fire safety engineer at Travelers Insurance. “At its peak, a burning six-foot tree can give off the same heat as 40,000 100-watt light bulbs.”

Therefore, when choosing a tree, needles should not fall off when pulling your hand along the branches. If that happens, the tree is already too dry.

Placement is also a key factor. The tree should not block doors or windows that would be used to escape a fire. The tree should also be at least three feet away from heating vents, fireplaces or other heat sources.

When decorating the tree, fire officials recommend using LED lights. The lights should be turned off when no one is home and before everyone goes to bed.

For outside decorating, consumers should use lights that are specifically designed for outdoor use. Fire officials also suggest using a ground-fault circuit interrupter, which can be installed by an electrician or purchased for portable use. Consumers should be aware that a 15-ampere circuit can support 1,800 watts and a 24-ampere circuit can support 2,400 watts.


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