Home Original The Continued Danger of Christmas Tree Fires
The Continued Danger of Christmas Tree Fires

The Continued Danger of Christmas Tree Fires


By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

During the holiday season, it is festive and fun to light up a tree with hundreds of delightful twinkly lights and place it alongside a cozy fireplace, but doing so can sometimes create a major hazard, and Christmas tree fires make headlines every winter.

Many fire departments educate their communities on the use of twinkly lights prior to the holidays, and it's important during a time when people are taking their lights out of storage to decorate their homes and trees. There also needs to be a continued discussion about the hazards associated with these lights right after the holidays. Once the holidays are over, holiday decorations are often up for a couple more weeks, potentially creating new environments where lights may start fires.

Christmas trees grow in all 50 states, and many people chose a real tree over an artificial one. Decorating the tree with lights is a centuries old tradition that first involved attaching lit candles to its branches - with obvious and frequent catastrophic results - especially a tree that is drying out. Nowadays, vigilance is still vital during the holidays.

By The Numbers: Christmas Tree Fires

In modern times, it's still extremely advisable for people to carefully check the holiday lights they are digging out of storage, (including the wiring), to make sure they work properly and have no visible damaged or broken wires.

It is important that people placing holiday lights outside follow the manufacturer recommendations; lights should never be left outside for extended periods after the holidays because wildlife are known to chew threw the wires - often shorting them and  creating hazards that people may not be considering when they plug the light in again the following year.

Another vital consideration is the placement of a natural tree within the home, because unless they are watered at metered intervals, they become dry and a major fire hazard if next to any heat source. The scary video below was released by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in 2015 has more than 600,000 views, but should probably have a lot more. It shows how quickly a tree can ignite when its not watered.

Just days ago, a Christmas tree situated too close to a wood-burning fireplace, erupted in flames and destroyed an Alabama family's house. Thankfully, the family members were not injured and escaped the inferno. Some other key facts from the NFPA's website:

  • Between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually.
  • On average, one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 43% of home Christmas tree fires.
  • In one-quarter (27%) of the Christmas tree fires and in 80% of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
  • More than one-fifth (22%) of Christmas tree fires were intentional.
  • Forty-two percent of reported home Christmas tree fires occurred in December and 33% were reported in January.
  • Two of every five (40%) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.

To conclude, it remains important to educate the public about Christmas tree fires even after the holidays have passed. People will continue to have their decorative lights up in their homes and outside - potentially creating a hazardous environment.

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.