Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Service officials demonstrated how easily a Christmas tree could catch fire and ruin a holiday season Tuesday morning.
Using a live, dry tree with all of the holiday trimmings from gifts to garland at the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank, instructors torched the room and extinguished a fixed blaze.
On average, Suffolk County has about one or two Christmas tree related fires a year, said Joe Williams, commissioner of Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services.
"People can neglect a tree," he said. "They put the tree sometimes too close to portable heating devices. They leave their homes with the lights on. We want to make this a joyous holiday, not a sad holiday."
Williams said many fires are related to a lack of water to trees.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2003-2008, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 260 home fires per year that started from Christmas trees. These fires caused an average of 14 deaths, 26 injuries, and $13.8 million in direct property damage annually.
In October, the U.S. Fire Administration set up a burn test from the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.
"Within three seconds of ignition, the dry Scotch pine is completely ablaze," the USFA said on its website of the text blaze. "At five seconds, the fire extends up the tree and black smoke with searing gases streaks across the ceiling. Fresh air near the floor feeds the fire.
"The sofa, coffee table and the carpet ignite prior to any flame contact. Within 40 seconds flashover occurs - that's when an entire room erupts into flames, oxygen is depleted and dense, deadly toxic smoke engulfs the scene."
The same results were true in Yaphank.
Williams and his staff prepared a list of safety tips to keep in mind:
Tree Display Tips
- Use a sturdy stand with an adequate water reservoir
- Monitor water levels in the tree stand frequently
- If selecting or using an artificial tree, make sure it is fire retardant
- Check the conditioning of the wiring and bulb sockets
- Limit the number of light strings being powered by an outlet
- Unplug all decorative lights whenever going to sleep for the night or leaving the house
- Use only non-combustible or flame resistance tree trimmings
General Holiday Safety Tips
- Make sure smoke detectors are in place on every level and by all sleeping areas
- Conduct a home exit drill – make sure the family is well practiced in escaping through alternate routes
- While opening gifts, make certain the wrapping paper is collected and kept distant from the tree and sources of open flame
- Do not burn wrapping paper or any part of the Christmas tree itself in a fireplace