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Firefighters warn community after Christmas tree sparks blaze

Durham Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi stressed the importance of checking decorations and testing smoke detectors after the first tree fire of the year

By FireRescue1 Staff

DURHAM, N.C. — A fire department’s first Christmas tree fire of the season sparked a warning from officials to the public.

CBS17 reported that Durham Fire Department firefighters responded to a townhouse blaze that was initiated when a couple’s tree caught fire, according to Deputy Chief Chris Iannuzzi.

The couple lost everything in the fire, and Iannuzzi said it’s a common occurrence.

“It’s devastating. We’ve been to many of them over the years. I’ve been here almost 23 years and it always is,” he said. “Hopefully there weren’t a lot of gifts already under the tree, but still, you’re not able to be in your home, and that’s the biggest thing, a lot of people just want to be home.”

Iannuzzi reminded the public that Christmas trees fires are “absolutely preventable.”

“This is the first one we’ve had this year,” he said. “I don’t want to scare people and say it’s common, but it does happen enough that it is a big concern.”

He added that “one in four Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems.”

Sometimes it’s too many cords strung together, frayed cords, broken bulbs, loose bulbs, too many things plugged into the outlet. You want to make sure if you’ve got two outlets there, make sure you are not overloading that circuit,” Iannuzzi said. “I’ve had a cat and dog chew the lights on my tree. Just throw them out, don’t try and fix them, just get a new strand of lights, because those are the kinds of things that will cause a short and cause that tree to catch fire.”

The deputy chief said that while fake trees don’t smell as good, they are at less risk of catching on fire, because you don’t have to water it to keep it from drying out.

“It’s unbelievable how much heat it puts off, and how fast it will take over a room and make it very difficult to safely to get out, which is why it’s also very important to have a smoke alarm,” Iannuzzi said of tree fires. “If you’ve got a Christmas tree fire, especially if it’s a live tree, and you don’t get that warning from that smoke alarm, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. That fire will grow that fast.”