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NFPA Fact Sheet on Christmas Tree Fires

This information is from NFPA's U.S. Home Product Report, Forms and Types of Materials First Ignited (August 2000) by Kimberly D. Rohr. Read statistical highlights of this report (in PDF format*) or order the entire report from NFPA's One-Stop Data Shop.

Christmas trees were the items first ignited in 400 home fires, resulting in 14 civilian deaths, 79 civilian injuries, and $17.5 million in direct property damage, per year in 1993-97. These include real as well as artificial trees. The average number of Christmas tree fires and injuries have declined since1980.

The leading cause of Christmas tree fires and property damage was short circuit or ground fault, with 24 percent of the fires. Electrical failure other than short circuit ranked second in number of fires, injuries and property damage with the exception of the "other known" category. Cords and plugs were the leading type of equipment involved in the ignition of Christmas trees, and they were the only type of equipment to account for more than 50 fires per year.  Form of heat of ignition included only one category accounting for more than 50 fires per year - unspecified short circuit arc, with 100 fires (21.0%), no civilian deaths, 14 civilian injuries, and $4.7 million in direct property damage per year.

Safety Tips

  • One of the most important things to remember when decorating your Christmas tree is to use safe tree lights. Some lights are designed only for outdoor use. The larger tree lights should also have some type of reflector rather than a bare bulb and all lights should be listed by a testing laboratory. Never use electric lights on a metal tree.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to use tree lights.  Any string of lights with worn, frayed or broken cords or loose bulb connections should not be used. Always unplug Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to sleep.
  • Never use candles to decorate a tree.
  • If you have a live tree, try to keep it as moist as possible by giving it plenty of water. Do not purchase a tree which is dry or dropping needles.
  • Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, be sure it is labelled as fire-retardant.
  • Children are fascinated with Christmas trees. Keep a watchful eye on them when around the tree and do not let them play with the wiring or lights. Store matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Carefully plan where your tree will be positioned. Make sure it is at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from any source of heat, and do not place the tree in front of or near your exit. Also try to position it near an outlet so that cords are not running long distances.
  • Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are very dangerous and should not be left in a garage or placed against the house.

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