How Fast Does a Christmas Tree Burn?

Every holiday season stories of tragedy hit the news as homes are burned and lives are lost to fires fueled by dry Christmas trees. Experts think that more critical care with Christmas trees can spare lives — even with simple strategies such as watering a tree daily versus just a few times a week.

The ATF recently did a controlled burn test to find out how different kinds of strategies when it comes watering indoor real Christmas trees and how long it would take them to burn. Their motivation was the loss of a family last Christmas in Annapolis, Maryland. They found that continuously watered Christmas trees definitely prevent tragedies.

The agency recreated a scenario of how long the family had their tree with different schedules for watering the 15-foot Fraser firs. The trees, like the one in the home, were stored in an unconditioned building for 23 days, and then placed in display stands for 42 days.

Both the first and second tree were watered on a weekly basis, while the third three was watered continuously.

For the first two trees, it took less than a minute for each to catch on fire, and just five seconds for the second tree to catch fire.

The Christmas tree watered continuously took seven minutes for the tree to catch fire, and then around 10 minutes, the moisture in the tree was enough to burn out and extinguish on its own.

Some people make a sport if not a tradition after Christmas in burning their Christmas trees. YouTube is flooded with videos showing folks having fun doing this. But as you look at those videos one common theme emerges from every one of them: shock at how fast a tree burns.

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