In a flash, a Christmas tree’s ‘lovely branches’ can become a deadly torch

Just seconds after ignition, a Christmas tree whose needles were allowed to dry out becomes a fiery torch in this demonstration from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Covington fire officials offer tips on preventing holiday fires


COVINGTON, Ky. – The video, shown HERE, is breathtaking in a scary way.

Within mere seconds after flame is touched to a live Christmas tree that wasn’t watered regularly, flames have spread to other branches. … Within 5 seconds, the tree is fully engulfed in a large, ferocious fire and flames are bouncing against the ceiling . … A minute later, the tree is a smoking black skeleton of its former self and the room itself is on fire.

Had that tree been in an actual living room instead of a demonstration studio, the first floor of that home would be filled with a large and hot fire, and anybody sleeping upstairs might very well have been trapped, even with working smoke detectors.

“People don’t appreciate how fast and hot a Christmas tree fire burns,” said Greg Salmons, assistant chief of fire prevention and education for the Covington Fire Department. “It’s pretty frightening.”

Almost 800 fires a year in the United States are started by holiday decorations, with 160 or so of those started within the tree itself, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Hoping to prevent any such fire in Covington this year, City fire officials are releasing safety tips.

“Most fires can be prevented just by being cautious and taking common-sense steps,” Salmons said. “In the rush of the holidays, too often we cut corners or take chances or get overwhelmed and forget things.”

Holiday Fire Safety Tips


  • Pick a live tree with fresh green needles that don’t fall off when you touch them.
  • If you use a live tree, water it daily. (In the video referencing above, a fire started in a well-watered tree failed to spread and actually burned itself out.)
  • Keep trees at least 3 feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, candles or heat vents.
  • Don’t block exits with your tree.
  • Get rid of your live tree when it starts to die or dry out.


  • Inspect your lights for frayed or pinched wires.
  • Follow manufacturers’ instructions on how many strands can be connected.
  • Use only lights with a UL-approved tag.


  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that burns, and put them out when you go to bed, leave the house, or leave the room for a long time.
  • Use stable holders or bases, and put them where they can’t be knocked down easily.
  • Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.
  • Never use candles in a tree.


  • Make sure your smoke detectors are working and have fresh batteries.
  • Do not leave lit fireplaces unattended.

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