How to prevent – and extinguish – a Christmas tree fire
Take these prevention measures to lower the chance of your holiday centerpiece going up in flames, and find out what to do if that does happen
Each year, millions of people cut down or purchase live trees to bring inside their home and adorn with lights, ornaments, candy and sentimental mementos from over the years. As they’re decorating the foliage, the image in their mind is one of a Christmas ideal, not a tree roasting under the onslaught of flames, igniting the wrapped gifts underneath and licking at nearby furniture.
However, according to the NFPA, that scenario happens on average 160 times each year, causing three deaths, 15 injuries and $10 million in property damage during the holidays.
How can you prevent a catastrophic tree fire during this time of year? And, if the worst does happen, what should you do?
Preventing a Christmas tree fire
1. Hydration. Water – that – tree. Nothing will help prevent a fire from breaking out than putting water into the plant itself. In a video from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, two decorated Christmas trees are set on fire – one watered, one dry. The results are shocking.
The tree that has been watered never fully ignites as a rolling fire and creates less smoke. Within seconds of ignition, however, the dry tree goes up in flames, forcing firefighters to come in and extinguish it.
2. Light safety. Before weaving your tree with Christmas lights, plug each strand in and check the wiring throughout. Inspect all bulbs on the tree for looseness or other issues. An electrical fire could spark due to faulty wiring, or overloaded outlets. For these types of fires, a Class C fire extinguisher is required; do NOT attempt to put out an electrical fire with an extinguisher not labeled with Class C.
3. Fire safety. The best way to prevent a Christmas tree from catching fire is to keep fire away from the Christmas tree. Open-flame candles should not be placed near the branches, and fireplaces should feature a screen to prevent popping embers. Position the tree away from the fireplace if possible, as well.
Extinguishing a Christmas tree fire
Uh oh: The tree is on fire.
Despite your best efforts, your Christmas tree can still catch fire, whether from an electrical wiring spark or a too-close candle flame or popping fireplace embers.
What do you do now?
1. Call 911. There’s a fire in your home, and, regardless of whether or not you can safely put it out yourself, you need professionals to come in and double check that you’ve fully extinguished the blaze, and safely prevented another fire from occurring from the same source.
2. Evacuate. Everyone else in the home should put the pre-established fire plan into action and evacuate the home to the meeting spot.
3. Gauge the size. Even with the proper type of fire extinguisher, a Christmas tree fire may grow too large too quickly to be handled by a home tank. If you can catch the flame before it grows larger than a small trashcan, and have the appropriate type of extinguisher, use PASS (pull, aim, squeeze and sweep) to douse the blaze.
4. Abandon. If, after a short period of time, the fire does not seem to be getting smaller, put the extinguisher down and leave the house to wait for the fire department.
This article, originally published in December 2019, has been updated.