Christmas tree decorating

Christmas Trees Present Potential Fire Hazards—Enjoy Them with Care and Caution

For all the joy and beauty Christmas trees bring, it’s important to remember that they are large combustible items that present potential fire hazards in the home. Fire departments responded to an annual average of 160 home structure fires caused by Christmas trees between 2016 and 2020, resulting in two civilian deaths, 11 civilian injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage.

Statistically, Christmas tree fires don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re much more likely to be serious. The deadly fire that occurred at a row house in Philadelphia this past January, which involved a Christmas tree and caused 12 fatalities (nine of them children), tragically underscores this point.

Fires involving fresh Christmas trees tend to be more common than artificial tree fires. That’s in part because fresh Christmas trees dry out over time, making them more flammable the longer they’re in the home; a dried-out Christmas tree will burn much more quickly than a well-watered one.

Our Christmas tree safety tip sheet offers tips and recommendations for safely enjoying Christmas trees this season. Following are some key reminders:

  • For a fresh tree, cut 2 inches (5 cm) from the base of the trunk before placing it in the stand. Add water daily to keep the tree well hydrated.
  • Trees should be placed at least 3 feet (1 m) away from any heat source, such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, such as a door or window.
  • Ensure that decorative lights are in good working order and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Also, the latest statistics from NFPA on Christmas tree fires in US homes include these key findings, reflecting annual averages between 2016 and 2020:

  • Christmas tree fires are more common between 3 p.m. and midnight, accounting for one-half of associated fires. Another 26 percent of fires occurred between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Approximately two of every five home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.
  • Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in more than one-third (34 percent) of Christmas tree fires.
  • In one-fifth (20 percent) of Christmas tree fires, some type of heat source was placed too close to the tree.

Visit our winter holidays page for additional information and resources on how to safely deck the halls this holiday season. These resources can be shared online, through social media, and/or as handouts.

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Susan McKelvey
Communications Manager

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