MADISON, AL (WAFF) - When's the last time you watered your Christmas tree? For those of us with real trees in our homes for the holidays, it's important to take care of them.
Madison firefighters demonstrated exactly why you need to stay on top of that with an exercise that illustrated the dangers.
On Thursday, they conducted a tree burn at Fire Station 1 as a public safety advisory for the community.
A thoroughly watered tree was set on fire beside a dry tree to show the hazards of improper care.
"We had two burn boxes that we built for the purpose of showing that we always have to worry about our Christmas trees if we don't take care of them," said Capt. Michael Sedlacek with Madison Fire and Rescue.
A freshly cut and watered tree as well as a month-old dry tree were used.
"The purpose of that was, when people put trees up directly after Thanksgiving and they don't take care of them, by the time Christmas comes, it's been a month and the trees are very dangerous if they're not taken care of properly," Sedlacek said.
As the two fully furnished rooms were lit, the dry tree went up in flames very quickly. The fire and smoke billowed out of the room and in a matter of moments, the rest of the furniture, rugs, and walls were also ablaze. The entire room was destroyed, everything charred.
"It went very, very fast," Sedlacek said. "And then especially if you put ornaments and things on the tree that are flammable, the plastic tinsel and popcorn and things on it that actually contribute to it burning. If you noticed, everything around the tree caught fire very shortly after because the room reached that flashover temperature very quickly because the tree went up."
On the other side with the properly watered tree, lots of time passed before flames were spotted.
"With the wet tree, we almost had difficulty getting it to light off because it was wet, it was taken care of," Sedlacek said.
When the tree finally did catch fire, it did not spread as quickly as the damage was much more minimal.
"When you get a tree, make sure you're picking one that's wet when you get it. When you get it home, you want to cut a sliver off, maybe a half inch to inch off the bottom. You want to make sure you have a tree stand that has watering capability. Most of them take about a gallon so you want to make sure that the tree is fully watered. It will take a lot of water within the first week. We want to make sure the tree is able to suck all that water up and keep it watered throughout the Christmas season," Sedlacek said.
He said that the U.S. averages 200 fires a year that stem from Christmas trees, and of those, 16 deaths annually are reported.
"Normally, we have all our family in the for the holidays and that's when we have a large danger in our house if it's not cared for properly. And it's about $14 million in property damage per year due to Christmas trees," Sedlacek said.
Local Lowe's and Home Depot stores, along with other local businesses like Madison Flooring & Paint and Asbury Thrift Store, donated the materials to build the living room sets used in the exercise. Valley Christmas Tree Plantation donated the trees that were used.
Sedlacek stressed that even with artificial trees, there are some dangers if the proper safety measures aren't taken.
"Don't string more than three strings of lights together at a time. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. If you need to plug multiple strings of lights in, then definitely use things that are appropriate for that," he urged.
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