Fire officials warn about hazards of dry Christmas trees

EVERETT — For many families, getting the traditional fresh-cut Christmas tree marks the beginning of the holidays and make it the centerpiece of holiday home decor.

But as the holidays come to a close, Christmas trees dry out, increasing the risk of house fires.

Fire marshals from around the county are asking folks to be mindful of how long a tree should stay indoors.

“When the needles start to fall from the tree, it means the tree is dry and should be taken down,” Marysville Fire Marshal Tom Maloney said.

Fresh-cut Christmas trees typically are a variety of fir, which are conifers. They carry high volumes of sap, and their needles are particularly flammable. Trees often are decorated with strings of colorful lights.

“We suggest people have a fresh-cut tree as opposed to one from a lot, keep it watered, and keep it away from heaters and open flame,” said Everett Fire Marshal Rick Robinson.

Some people bring home trees in mid-November, or as early as Halloween. If they are purchased at a lot, the trees may have been cut much earlier.

The longer a tree has been cut, the greater the fire hazard, Robinson said.

Tree sap is particularly volatile. Christmas trees are usually pretty sappy.

By Christmas, many trees are dry. Even if you’ve kept it watered, they do dry out, just like fresh-cut flowers. The needles provide a lot of surface area to burn.

“These factors cause trees to burn very quickly, and very hot. A tree can be fully consumed in a matter of minutes, and the high heat and flash will ignite walls and furniture just as quickly. This is what makes Christmas tree fires so dangerous,” Robinson said.

Simple things can be done to prevent Christmas tree fires, such as not overloading electrical outlets, not using too many light strings, and unplugging lights when leaving the home.

A dry tree burns three to four times faster than a watered tree, Maloney said. The National Fire Protection Association produced a short video showing this.

“A dry tree is the difference between a damaged home and a destroyed home,” he said.

“We aren’t saying you can’t enjoy your decorations. We just want people to have a fun while staying safe.”

For more tips about Christmas tree fire prevention, go to nfpa.org

Andrew Gobin: 425-339-3000 ext. 5461; agobin@heraldnet.com

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