Once ignited, a dry Fraser fir, one of the most popular Christmas tree choices, bursts into flames in less than 7 seconds, and it will be consumed by fire in slightly more than a minute. But if a well-watered Fraser fir briefly ignites, the flame soon dies. This experiment, videotaped by researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), provides a stunning, visual lesson on why keeping one’s Christmas tree moist can be a matter of life-and-death importance.
Every holiday season, hundreds of homes catch fire when something as small 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. The NFPA also reports that one in nine Christmas tree fires lead to a death.
NIST’s 90-second-long video, called “Dry Tree vs. High Moisture Tree Fire,” is a persuasive educational tool. The video 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 video has been shown on local and national television during the holiday season since its debut two years ago. “Every year it is picked up by many local television stations to remind people of the risks of fire during the holidays,” says Fire Fighting Technology Group Leader Dan Madrzykowski. In addition to seeing it on the NIST web site, hundreds of thousands of people have viewed the video on You Tube and the U.S. Fire Administration website as well as others.
Fire marshalls and fire service educators also use the DVD for fire safety training, Madrzykowski explained, adding that this and other tree fire videos also are used in online training classes. More than 21,000 of the DVDs have been distributed internationally.
The NIST “Fire Safety for the Holidays” website 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 three and one-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.