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First responders warn of Christmas Tree fire danger

Posted at 7:22 AM, Dec 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-06 08:22:56-05

In recent years, U.S. Fire Departments responded to an average of 160 house fires a year traced to Christmas Trees.

Those numbers are according to the National Fire Protection Agency, which also reports that the bulk of the fires (75%) occurred in December or January.

Capt. Daniel Tyk, of the North Shore Fire Department, said that's likely because many Christmas trees are drying out at that time.

He said a real Christmas tree isn't any greater of a fire hazard than a fake tree - unless it dries out due to a lack of watering or other factors.

"The longer you have that tree inside, especially when we're in heating season and people are firing up their furnaces and fireplaces, that definitely dries out the air and it's going to dry that tree out too," Tyk said.

He said a dried-out tree can go up in flames almost immediately - as has been demonstrated in numerous YouTube videos.

"As the tree dries out, it's going to burn much more efficiently," Tyk said.

He said it's important to keep a three-foot radius of space around any Christmas tree - real or fake.

It's especially crucial to keep the tree away from space heaters.

But Tyk noted the bulk of Christmas Tree fires begin with an electrical issue.

"You need to inspect the wiring of the lights," Tyk said.

He noted it's important to do that whether the tree is real or fake.

"You want to make sure you don't see any cracks in the wiring, and that you're not exposing the wiring to any kind of heat source," Tyk said.

He said using open-flame candles on a tree, rather than wired lights, is a major fire hazard.

Tyk said it's important to never leave a lit tree unattended.

He said, while fake trees don't burn as quickly as dried-out, real trees, they can certainly be harmful when they do burn.

"There are chemicals involved in making those trees, so they're going to give out more pungent smoke," Tyk said. "Those trees may not burn as quickly, but they're going to create a much bigger hazard in terms of respiratory problems."

"Those (fake) trees are going to burn a lot hotter, create a possibly bigger, more dangerous fire once that tree gets going," Tyk said.