NIST: Moisture is Main Ingredient in a Safe Christmas Tree

Dec. 17, 2010
Once ignited, a dry Fraser fir, one of the most popular Christmas tree choices, bursts into flames in less than 7 seconds and is consumed by fire in about a minute. When a well-watered Fraser fir ignites, however, the flame soon dies. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers videotaped this experiment to demonstrate why keeping a Christmas tree moist can be of life-and-death importance.

Every holiday season, hundreds of homes catch fire when something as minor as poor insulation on a Christmas tree light sparks or causes a small flame, which is what was simulated in the NIST video. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), each year holiday trees fires cause 210 home fires, injure and kill dozens and cause more than $13.3 million in property damage. NFPA also reports that one in nine Christmas tree fires lead to a death.

NIST’s 90-second-long educational video, “Dry Tree vs. High Moisture Tree Fire,” shows the two Christmas tree tests side by side. The needles on the tree on the left are fully moist; the moisture content of the other tree’s needles is less than 10 percent. As the video begins, the trees are ignited with a small flaming source. By the end of the video, the well-watered tree stands tall and green, while the dry tree is a charred remnant.

The NIST “Fire Safety for the Holidays” Web site shows videos of earlier NIST experiments that tell similar stories. “Dry Scotch Pine Tree Fire” shows the damage a dry tree exposed to an open flame can cause in a lighted room full of furniture. All is ablaze until the room is in total darkness within 46 seconds.

Another educational video shows the striking difference a residential sprinkler system can make. The burning tree sets off the single room sprinkler in about 10 seconds and puts the tree fire out within 3 and a half minutes. Unlike the other videos of fires in living rooms, none of the furniture catches fire, which would cause the fire to flashover and move throughout the house.

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