Covington Fire Department Fire Educator Jonathan Fuqua video records how quickly a dried Christmas tree can be consumed by a fire for a public service announcement offering safety tips for caring for a Christmas tree. (Staff photo: Aimee Jones)
COVINGTON — For many, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without a fresh Christmas tree adorned with lights and sentimental ornaments. Without proper care, however, the warm glow of the tree can quickly become a hot hazard.
Jonathan Fuqua, fire educator with the Covington Fire Department, said one of the most important things people can do during the holiday season is to make sure their Christmas tree has plenty of water.
“When you first bring your fresh-cut tree home, give it about 1 to 2 gallons of water,” he said. “Add water daily.”
To ensure the tree purchased from the Christmas tree farm or a local retailer gets the water it needs, Fuqua said to either make a fresh cut at the bottom of the tree or score it with a serrated knife or saw.
He said when trees are first cut down, sap from the tree oozes and seals the cut on the trunk.
“You want to get the seal out of the trunk so it can get to the water,” Fuqua said.
The other important thing to remember when keeping a Christmas tree is to make sure it is away from any heat source. Fuqua said to keep Christmas trees – live and artificial – away from fireplaces, candles, space heaters and to even be cautious of heat vents, which can dry out the leaves.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, an annual average of 230 home structure fires began with Christmas trees between 2007 and 2011. Electrical problems were factors in one-third of home Christmas tree structure fires during those years, the most recent data available. Twelve percent of home Christmas tree fires involved decorative lights.
Therefore, in addition to keeping the Christmas tree watered, Fuqua said to make sure the wires for any lights on or near the tree are not frayed and there are no broken bulbs. He said to turn out the lights when going to bed and make sure there is a working smoke detector in the room where the tree is.
“A live tree is no more flammable than an artificial tree,” Fuqua said. “Artificial trees are just plastic and it will burn just as hot if not hotter. It might take a little longer to burn, but it will put off more toxic smoke.”
To demonstrate how quickly a dried-out Christmas tree can be consumed by fire – and therefore spread to other parts of the room and house – Fuqua and the Covington Fire Department lit a partially dried tree on Wednesday afternoon in a staged room at Fire Station 1 on Pace Street.
Within about 3 ½ minutes, the entire tree and wrapped gifts on the floor were consumed by fire and the blaze had spread to furniture nearby before firefighters doused the flame with water from a fire hose.
“This just shows how quickly it can go up,” Fuqua said. “It is more likely that nothing will go wrong with a Christmas tree, but we just want people to be aware and take precautions.”
For more information, visit nfpa.org or contact Jonathan Fuqua at the Covington Fire Department at 678-712-9387.