By Maddie Orton
It’s a scary thought, but more than 200 fires in the U.S. each year are started by Christmas trees or holiday decorations. So on a brisk December day, the Middlesex County Fire Academy heated up with a safety demonstration.
“What we’re going to show you is an ember from a fireplace getting sparked [and] hitting a Christmas tree,” NJ Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board Executive Director Dave Kurasz announced. “We’re going to show you how quick and easily a fire starts, how quickly it spreads and how alert you need to be.”
A fire quickly took hold of the tree and the outdoor faux room holding it.
“Probably within 15 seconds your smoke alarm activated,”‘ explained Kurasz. “It’s already too hot, the smoke alarm has melted. That was 20 seconds from the amount of fire from a Christmas tree.”
Assemblyman John Wisniewski is chairman of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission. “There are steps that folks can take,” he said. “Make sure the tree is a live tree when you’re getting it — it’s not dry and brittle. If it’s a live tree, make sure you’re keeping the reservoir of water full, don’t place it near the fireplace. It may look attractive, it may look like a Hallmark card, but it’s very dangerous.”
Wisniewski says lights are another concern. The general rule is don’t use more than three strands of mini-lights or 50 screw-in bulbs, and know that LED lights can run even hotter.
“Make sure the lights are not frayed or out, because that creates risk of fire, and never leave the tree illuminated when no one’s home or when you go to sleep,” said Wisniewski. “Again, it may be nice to wake up to a lit Christmas tree, but the danger is overnight something can happen.”
The demonstration also showed the remarkable difference in-home fire safety sprinklers can make. As a side-by-side comparison, the difference is clear between a room that had a sprinkler and one that didn’t.
Do many homes have sprinklers in them?
“No, many homes do not,” said Wisniewski. “Right now, there is no requirement that single-family homes have fire protection sprinklers in them, but obviously we see that they can have an incredible positive impact should there be a tragedy like a Christmas tree fire or any other fire in the house.”
In the wake of the recent California warehouse fire, Wisniewski said he’s looking at changing the law to include new fire suppression and safety measures. For now, play it safe. Replace old lights, check the smoke alarm and keep your tree far away from open flames.