Christmas trees and fire safety

mc-btbonfire-1-013114-nn-tifA North Jersey site published a story today about an annual Boonton Township celebration involving a bonfire of burning Christmas trees, complete with a chili cook-off.  That’s a great way to safely enjoy a tree on fire, under the supervision of the local fire department.  Unfortunately, Christmas trees can be the fuel of much greater disaster.

Closer to home, we read about the recent devastating fire that destroyed a beautiful Annapolis mansion, and, more important, the lives of a loving family, was made more sad when fire investigators determined that the catastrophic blaze was caused by an electrical problem that ignited the 15-ft. Christmas tree skirt and tree.

The key is hydration.  A dry Christmas tree can ignite and burn much more quickly than a well-watered tree.  When a tree begins to lose its needles, that’s when it’s time to take it down.  The National Fire Protection Association demonstrated the very real danger with a video contrasting a fire started with a dry tree vs. one that is hydrated.

PBS News Hour produced a segment about Christmas tree fires that explores a much more scientific explanation about why a tree fire can happen so quickly and be so dangerous.  The video illustrates that tree can ignite and spread in 18 seconds.  Although only a tiny percentage of trees (about 250 of the 30 million sold anually) are involved in fires each year, the cost of the property damage is in the millions of dollars.

All of the safety tips emphasize that trees do not spontaneously combust.  There must be a heat source.  In addition to keeping the tree watered, it should not be set up near a heat source–like a fireplace or heating vent.

When Roger and I light our Christmas tree on fire in the fire pit sometime this summer, the same enthusiasm that I have for the 20-foot blaze will be tempered with my memory of how this same uncontrolled fire can wreck lives.