Got a Christmas tree in the house? Don't forget to water it.


Christmas Tree Fire Safety Video from NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). (via Esthr Dysn!)

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  1. Scary. My friend lost her apartment about 10 years ago to a Christmas tree fire. She said it took about a minute for the living room ceiling to be engulfed in flames.

  2. More tree fire videos from NIST here:

    http://fire.nist.gov/tree_fire.htm

    I wonder who purchases the furniture that goes into these rooms. Are they using brand new furniture? Do they use discarded furniture from other government offices? Whatever they can pick up on the curb that day? Hopefully a knowledgeable person will chime in here. Otherwise I’ll be up all night thinking about this.

  3. Dry kindling, soaked in pine pitch. When camping we use lighter pine to start our fires, it’s better than lighter fluid.

  4. I do enjoy that by the end of the video the room appears to have been transported to the surface of Venus.

    We keep our tree well-watered, and add aspirin for freshness. We also only keep it for a week.

  5. why thank you Shecky, that makes it all the more memorable!

    I’ll bet you all ten bucks you haven’t checked your smoke detector batteries.

  6. Yeh, dried pine goes up like matchheads. A well watered pine would give you at least 15 more seconds to pull the fire alarm.

  7. @#7:
    I have used pine pitch to start campfires as well, unfortunately the smoke is carcinogenic, making any form of pine dangerous to cook with.

    I also heard, don’t know for sure, that pine pitch is actually considered a #1 grade Kerosene.
    Can anyone help me with that?

    @#12:
    You owe me $10! I check my fire/carbon monoxide alarms’ batteries every *three* months!

  8. Most years we put candles on our Noble Fir and light them on either the Solstice on on Christmas. Incredibly beautiful. We only set up the tree a few days before and keep it well watered, plus get ones with broad and well separated whorls.

    I have done a number of burn tests on branches over the years (outside!), even on trees that were a few weeks old. If you tossed the tree into a bonfire, yes it would go up, but hold a match (or candle) to it, and you can barely get it to light.

    But I can always imagine the headline of “Stupid family burns down house using candles on tree!”

  9. Yes this is very scary and one has to be very careful in not to burn down anything. Many times I think this is due of carelessness. Careful…

  10. When I worked in the hospital, a patient’s husband was sleeping in the waiting room. In the middle of the night he purposefully set the Xmas tree on fire. That was the end of real trees and the end of anyone sleeping in the waiting room.

    1. Actually the end of the lab on the floor below, which was flooded by the sprinklers. There wasn’t any significant fire damage, but a flood on the fourteenth floor can travel a long way down.

  11. This reminds me of the videos we used to have to watch in elementary school, though they usually covered the more common causes of house fires (candle left burning, something on the stove, etc) rather than Christmas trees. They used to give me nightmares for a good week afterwards.

  12. Every year we burn our Christmas tree in the backyard. There’s something wonderful about how completely and hot it burns.

  13. When I was little my Dad, and all his hippie friends, thought it would be a good idea to throw the (so dry it was brown) x-mas tree into the already lit fireplace tinsel and all. First it was like a bomb going off, and then it just sucked all the air out of the room and shot it up the chimney like a rocket. 30 seconds later it was gone. It was like a little mini Dresden right in out living room. Don’t you be a stupid hippie.

  14. @12 Hey we replace our batteries when the thingies start beeping! Usually.

    It’s such an annoying sound!

  15. There is a science TV show called “Quarks & Co” in Germany witch did a ‘Christmas Special’.
    Besides some funny mathematic and physics calculation about santa (having to travel at 9.700 times the speed of sound because of the No of households on world diveded by hours of work) They had a segment on burning christmas trees as well.

    Nice shots with highspeed, infrared and makro cameras:
    http://www.wdr.de/tv/quarks/sendungsbeitraege/2008/1223/007_weihnachtswissen.jsp

  16. Where I come from in Australia, it doesn’t matter how much we water our tree, it’s not going to help much. We use the traditional plastic tree. I’m not sure if that’s more or less of a fire hazard than the real thing though.

  17. @thethompsonfive

    it’s not just the hippies. my dad was career navy and when I was about 7 he thought a lawn bag of used wrapping paper would be appropriate to throw on all at once. It stayed contained but the room was uninhabitable for about 5 minutes. Then it snowed glowing soot outside for 1/4 mile downwind.

    At least we know who we got it from.

  18. I used to work in the same building as the NIST fire research group’s labs. Just two floors below my office . . .

    I’m pretty sure they were doing these tests all the time — we could go to the basement and see construction of the latest living room / office / bedroom / whatever, and it was often different so they must have been burning them — but the building’s ventilation and safety systems are such that we never knew when burns were occurring.

  19. I love this statement from that Real Christmas Trees website:
    “2. A properly cared-for REAL Christmas tree will not catch fire easily. If and when it does, its fumes will certainly not be as toxic.”

    As we can see from this video, if a christmas tree catches fire, it’s not just the fumes of the christmas tree we have to worry about. You’re going to be inhaling burning couch fumes, burning plastic toy fumes, melted television fumes, burning carpet fumes…etc, etc. So that point is kind of moot.

  20. This afternoon I saw a small Xmas tree (would have been about 3 or 4 feet tall upright) being blown down the streets of Brooklyn like a tumbleweed.

  21. I went for Xmas dinner at a German-Swedish couple’s flat 3 years ago and their burnt Xmas tree was out on the balcony as it had caught fire, due to them using real candles.

    I thought they were mad to have real candles on a tree, until I saw an old pic from my own childhood when we had real flames on the candles – but luckily no fires. (That pic was about 1961 or 2 and I’m the one in the middle.)

  22. Dear Subvertia et al: NB the Eulaese weasel-worded collective “you”. Your pro-rated share of the ten bucks will arrive when the thread closes, accompanied by handling and postage invoice. There may be some additional delay until the number of all possible readers is determined

  23. The lighter pine we use to start fires are just small pieces of kindling. The pine trees ooze pine resin like a maple tree oozes sap. Just a few pieces will start a fire and they’re rapidly consumed.

  24. @Narmitaj

    The candle hazard depends a lot on the type of tree and how fresh it is. Good fresh Noble Fir won’t catch on fire unless you really try. Plus it’s got very well spaced and horizontal whorls, which means the candles are on good solid and well separated platforms.

    And like I said above, I’ve sat there and held a match under a clipped off tree branch and found them extremely difficult to light on fire. A fresh Noble Fir won’t go “whoosh!” is my bet. Not water it and let it get all dried out? Yea probably it will burn then.

    Generally the idea of candles for us is that we light them, turn off all the lights, and we watch it until the candles are out. We often take a sort of pool on which one will be the last out.

    With that kind of attention, the right tree, the right candles and no small kids or dogs in the room to bump it, the tree is not going to catch on fire without a lot of inattention on someone’s part.

  25. There’s something else working here as well. Not only do dry pine trees burn hot as hell, a fire in a corner gets much, much, much hotter. This, actually, is why the WTC tower fires brought the whole building down. While it is true that jet fuel burns at whatever, when a fire is in an enclosed space (with a nice supply of oxygen, of course), it heats up way past what it would in the open because it doesn’t have all that nice air to suck up all that kinetic energy and diffuse it.

    So take a hot-and-fast-burning dry tree, put it in the corner (as I’m sure nearly everyone’s is), and light it on fire, and you have what you see in very short order.

  26. Good Lord.

    The Christmas trees here in Puerto Rico are expensive, because they’re shipped in. After shipping them in, the stores put them outside because that’s the only room. The trees arrive about, oh, I guess the first of December. Pretty early.

    Then they stand in the hot sun, sans water, until purchased. They’re bone dry by Christmas. I have no idea why more people don’t die. (Of course, concrete houses help with that, but still…)

    We’ve got a plastic tree, with LED lights. There’s no way I’m paying $70 for a dead fire hazard.

    Anonymous @17, what a drab world you inhabit. Today’s the fourth day of Christmas. It ain’t over until the Three Kings come and give you presents on January 6th, which is the twelfth day of Christmas. Don’t forget to leave grass in a box under the bed for their camels!

  27. @ Rampantidiocy

    NIST generally uses a starter flame in the videos I’ve watched so far. So, flick on the flame at the base, and the counter begins.
    I suppose they could try to rig up the lights, but the effect of this movie is more that if your tree does ignite, you’re going to have flashover in less than 45 seconds. In fact, its about at 22 seconds, when the whole room seems to ignite.

    My undergraduate research team used this video in a presentation to our peers to show that research really is important in this field. They were pretty entranced, to say the least. NIST has a bunch of other videos that are awesome/terrifying.

    @ Kyle Armbruster

    Perhaps you are an expert in the field and have investigated this, but to my understanding based on my mentor who has been consulted about the towers’ collapses, the WTC towers collapses (at least towers one and two) are much more complex than just the fires. It is very rare for fire to bring down a high rise building by itself. WTC #7 was subjected only to fire, and that case is also very interesting because of the rarity of the event.

  28. That video is cool, granted, but Christmas is still waaaack. In related news, I’m still sore from my Festivus pinning.

  29. A recent trick I have learned this season is to saturate the water you feed your tree with sugar. It simulates the sap running and keeps the pines even healthier and not-falling-off-er. I’m also guessing less inflamable, but I haven’t tested that theory just yet.

  30. One of these days I’m going to decorate a tree with nitrocellulose tinsel, magnesium ornaments, and thermite flocking.

    It will be epic.

  31. It’s just another reason that I’m glad I don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s comforting to know that my Festivus pole will never cause my house to burn down.

  32. Say it with me: Sprinklers!

    Watching the vid, I’m not sure at what point he smoke alarm would alert. How much time would you have to get out before fire spread and would the smoke be to thick to exit?

    scary

  33. How come you’re all giving each other grief about fire alarms, and no one’s mentioned having a fire extinguisher to hand? We keep one under the kitchen sink and one in the basement.

    When we lived in Seattle, our friends Jerry and Suzle stashed their old Christmas tree under the eaves of their house, where it actually managed to get dry. At one point in the spring, after a week or two of nonstop rain, I burned it for them by stuffing the entire tree into their fireplace and up their chimney, then lighting it. It burned so hot and fast that the whole chimney roared like an angry Ent. The difference between me and the various fathers mentioned in this thread is that I knew that would happen before I set fire to the tree.

    Dry Christmas trees are big open air-sucking stacks of tinder. It always makes me nervous when everyone gets rid of their Christmas trees in January, so that we have big heaps of them out on the sidewalks. I can’t believe no one ever tosses a match at them.

    PukeBazooka @4, they have to use new furniture, made of new materials and with a known history, in order for the tests to be valid. Go back and look again at the NIST site with all the videos. (BTW, thanks for posting the link.) The setup’s identical for “dry tree in non-sprinklered room” and “dry tree in sprinklered room.”

  34. Three words: Housing crisis solution.

    Though having the kid watch it while saying: j’adore! (while dancing around to the music) was a nice touch. Plus now she knows why we don’t have those trees around: it’s clearly just because they’re dangerous.

  35. @#6 Shecky

    I read about the Bennyhillifier in B3ta, and thought it sounded like a good idea but couldn’t think of anything to try it with. Thank you for your quick thinking.

    I haven’t laughed out loud in front of my computer for some time, but that was hilarious.

  36. I also find it best not to keep my box of fire underneath my Christmas tree. It just seems like such an irresponsible place to put it.

  37. We always keep our trees watered and get rid of the after new years. You’d think there would be more fires caused by Christmas trees after watching this video, but I’ve yet to make a fire caused by one. Most Christmas related fires are caused by Christmas lights. People either over load an outlet or a circuit. Candles also cause a lot of fires around Christmas.

    There are more arson fire around this time of year also, a lot of personal problems arise and since families are either together (often a bad thing) or someone is depressingly alone, a fire seems to be a great way to get even after an argument. Alcohol is usually a contributing factor.

  38. They used to have a Xmas tree bonfire every January in Flint, Michigan. Hundreds of trees were taken by their owners to a large bowl-shaped park and stacked in an enormous pile. On an appointed day and time it was ignited (providing the day was windless). It was an awesome sight for a child, and probably for anyone else. I remember a few idling fire engines and their nervous crews on the bordering streets. They stopped doing this about forty years ago because, the argument went, it added heavily to the already polluted air in a factory town.

  39. Jason Rizos = hilarious! And thanks Shecky for the music, LOL.

    How to use the Christmas tree “easy burn” process to start the wood burning stove, which seems to take forever and launch great smoke into the room before the flu warms up?!! While the wood supply is generally a hardwood, I suppose one should collect pine branches to start each fire…?

    No replies necessary, I don’t use the stove anymore. I just find it ironic how easy it is to burn the house down when one does not want to, and how difficult it is to start a controlled fire when one does want to!

  40. @SUBVERTIA

    Hopefully those aren’t combo units. All the batteries in the world won’t save you… If they’re up by the ceiling, and you have a CO problem, you’ll be dead before it gets to the detector. If you have them by the floor, and have a fire, same problem.

  41. A carbon monoxide detector, if placed properly, will detect CO long before it’ll cause any ill effects. Place one at the same area you would a smoke detector, near bedrooms and any gas appliances. I’ve made 2 tragic CO related calls, neither had CO detectors and both had stupidly placed kerosene heaters inside their homes without adequate ventilation. Both resulted in multiple deaths.

  42. chimney fires: if you haven’t cleaned your chimney since forever, the extreme heat of a tree for fuel will ignite the creosote build up and you will have a roaring blowtorch well after the tree is consumed. Then your house burns down. Sometimes. Either burn the tree a little at a time, or compost it.

  43. They seem to have left off one important instruction!: Before you water your tree, make sure that it’s a natural tree and not artificial. Otherwise you may start a fire with the electrical short.

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