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Holiday Fire Safety

Watering your Christmas Tree Reduces Fire Hazard

Every year in the U.S., fire departments respond to an estimated 210 home fires involving Christmas trees[1]. Even though Christmas tree fires are infrequent, when they occur, they can be dangerous and costly. These fires cause an annual average of 6 civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $16.2 million in property damage[1]. The good news is that by keeping your Christmas tree watered, you can enjoy the holidays with a beautiful and safer Christmas tree.

The Fire Research Division at NIST conducted a series of fire experiments to demonstrate how a watered Christmas tree may be less of a fire hazard than a dry one. As shown in the video below, the Christmas tree that was maintained in a stand that was kept filled with water prior to testing (‘WATERED’, left side of Video 1) did not ignite when exposed to the same ignition source as the Christmas tree that was not watered (‘DRY’, right side of Video 1).  While every home is different, a slower growing fire can mean more time to react, escape, and call the fire department; this can reduce the damage done by the fire.

Christmas tree fire: watered tree vs. dry tree
Christmas tree fire: watered tree vs. dry tree

Video 1. Well-maintained (‘WATERED’) and ‘DRY’ Christmas tree fires. Properly maintaining a cut Christmas tree is important to retaining a high moisture content in the branches and needles of the tree. This can help to limit ignition likelihood, fire growth rate, and peak fire size.

Christmas Tree Fire Safety Tips

The video above suggests that keeping your Christmas tree watered can reduce its fire risk.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests several steps that you can take to reduce the risk of a Christmas tree fire in your home[2].

  • Choose a healthy tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • Immediately before placing a tree in its stand, cut 5 cm (2 in.) from the base of the trunk; this can help the tree to draw up water. If the cut surface is allowed to dry, it will reduce the water uptake to the tree.
  • Always keep the tree well-watered. Make sure to check the water level in the stand daily.
  • Make sure that the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source (e.g. space heaters, candles, fireplaces, heat vents, or lights).
  • Make sure that the tree does not block an exit.
  • Only use decorative lights that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Make sure light bulbs, strings, and connections are not broken or damaged in any way.
  • Always turn off tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry and keep it away from your home/garage. Of the ten days with the largest shares of Christmas tree fires, none were before Christmas[3].
  • Check with your local community to find a recycling program.

For additional information on Christmas fires and safety from the NFPA, please visit Winter Holiday Fire Facts.

Related Links

Large Scale Fire Research at NIST

Inside the 2,000 square meter (21,400 square feet) research facility at NIST

Full scale (up to 15 MW) structural fire experiments conducted at NIST


[1] Ahrens, M., “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees,” National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA. November 2016.
[2]  Hinesley, E. and Chastagner, G., “Christmas Trees.  Agriculture Handbook Number 66,” Gross, K.C., Wang, C.Y., and Saltveit, M., eds.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, updated May 5, 2004. Downloaded November 24, 2006.
[3]  NFPA Fire Analysis & Research Division, “NFPA Christmas Tree Fact sheet,” National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA. Downloaded December 7, 2014.


Created November 27, 2017, Updated December 18, 2023