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Live Christmas Trees Require Precautions

The Springfield Fire Department got their point across Wednesday morning about the dangers of placing a live Christmas tree too close to heat sources. KSMU's Michele Skalicky reports.

It looked like a stage set for a play: a cozy holiday living room scene complete with an armchair, a side table with a red candle on top, curtains and a decorated Christmas tree with presents bulging out beneath.

But this wasn't for anyone's amusement. It was to serve as a dire warning about the dangers of live Christmas trees placed too close to heat sources.


The living room was set up by the Springfield Fire Department in a metal container to show what happens when a lit candle is placed too close to a live Christmas tree. The tree, purchased within a week after Thanksgiving, had not been watered.

When firefighters lit the candle, it took less than a minute for the tree to become fully ablaze. It was only about 4 minutes before the living room was completely destroyed.

Even though this wasn't a real living room, a similar situation happened to a family in NE Springfield early Monday morning, though their Christmas tree fire was caused by an electrical short. Fortunately, their dog woke them up and they got out, but they were left with thousands of dollars in damage to their home. The charred trunk of their tree, bare of branches and needles, was propped up against the container used in the demonstration as a reminder that this situation can be all too real.

"As soon as these things are cut, they're dying, they're dead, and without any type of moisture, they're just going to dry out. And they may look green on the outside, but they're just dry as a bone. If you don't keep some moisture wicked in there, they're just a fire hazard waiting to happen."

Randy Villines is assistant Springfield fire chief. He says old lights can pose a hazard since they may have a short in the wiring. Space heaters placed too close to a live Christmas tree can also be dangerous and, as demonstrated by the fire department, so can candles.


"Underwriters Laboratories did a test, National Fire Protection Association have done tests, and within a minute the tree's gone and within five to ten minutes the whole room's involved, so it's very fast."

Villines says if you MUST use candles, keep a 3-foot perimeter around them—clear of anything that could catch fire—AND monitor them at all times.

And, he says, even if you water your tree regularly, you still need to take precautions.

According to Villines, there are, on average, more than 200 fires each year in the United States that involve live Christmas trees. More than 50% are due to electrical malfunctions and nearly 30% are caused by a heat source such as a candle.


For KSMU News, I'm Michele Skalicky.