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Fire marshal: Christmas tree tinderbox for fire danger

By Sherry Koonce skoonce@news-journal.com
Nov. 29, 2012 at 10 p.m.


While holiday revelers are rockin' around the Christmas tree this year, Longview's fire marshal is urging the use of safety precautions to keep festivities from going up in smoke.

"Our hope here is to prevent a fire during the Christmas holidays," said Fire Marshal Johnny Zackary.

To illustrate the danger, Longview's fire department staged a Christmas tree fire Thursday at the department's training facility, 200 Fair St.

Trees were set up, trimmed with all the usual decorations - twinkling lights, glittery garland and shiny ornaments. The trees were placed near living room furniture, just as they typically are placed in homes.

In about 30 seconds, the trees were fully engulfed in flames. In less than a minute, nearby furniture was on fire. Thick, black smoke was billowing throughout the room.

A Christmas tree strung with electrical lights or in close proximity to a fireplace or candles can be a tinder box for holiday tragedy.

In 2002, Pinehurst Apartments in Longview burned at Christmastime, Zackary said.

The fire resulted in three fatalities.

Zackary said the fire's origin was not completely determined, but the presence of a live Christmas tree was thought to have played a role in the deadly fire.

"We know the Christmas tree made a more intense fire," Zackary said.

Longview residents should remember that a city ordinance prohibits placing a live Christmas tree in multi-family dwellings. Duplexes are not multi-family dwellings.

The main causes of a Christmas tree fire are faulty or frayed electrical cords and wiring, lighting, flying fireplace embers, and nearby candles, Zackary said.

When a Christmas tree ignites, the dryness of the live tree causes it to burn quickly. Wrapped presents below the tree act as accelerants.

"Most of us don't have a ton of room in our living room, so the tree is often put up next to, or close to, furniture," Zackary said.

"Today furnishings all produce very toxic smoke," he said. "There are tons of hydrocarbons in the furniture."

Because these fires burn so quickly, it is imperative to have good, working smoke alarms in homes, Zackary said.

While live trees pose the greatest fire threat, artificial trees can be hazardous too.

Though artificial trees are flame retardant, they will still catch fire, Zackary said.

"Prevention is paramount," Zackary said. "Once the fire department is called, we are playing catch-up."

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