Every year in the U.S., fire departments respond to an estimated 210 home fires involving Christmas trees. 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. 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.
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.
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.
For additional information on Christmas fires and safety from the NFPA, please visit Winter Holiday Fire Facts.
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
_____________________ Ahrens, M., “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees,” National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA. November 2016.  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. https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/beltsville-md-barc/beltsville-agricultural-research-center/food-quality-laboratory/docs/ah66. Downloaded November 24, 2006.  NFPA Fire Analysis & Research Division, “NFPA Christmas Tree Fact sheet,” National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA. http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fire-causes/holiday/christmas-tree-and-holiday-lights. Downloaded December 7, 2014.