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Like many sentimental souls we had left our live Christmas tree up until last night. Our less than month old tree seemed OK; its needles were green and the stand it was in had been kept full of water. But as I removed the lights and ornaments from the tree I realized things weren't exactly as they appeared. The branches snapped easily even though the needles hadn't dropped on their own. Well, I thought, good I am taking it down now. And since we augment the heat for our house with wood, I decided to trim a few branches and use them along with my normal kindling to start a fire in our fireplace wood stove. What happened when I did that was shocking.

I had a clean fire box and I built the fire from scratch. It was my usual fire building technique except for the fir branches which I used in place of tiny kindling. I lighted the fire and when I did it practically blew me back from the fireplace. I'd never seen anything like it. I knew in an instant if even the slightest spark or short from a Christmas light had touched that tree it would have been up in flames and no fire extinguisher would have put it out.

For purposes of this diary I had to re-create the explosion part of the experience since I was unprepared to photograph it when it originally happened. Both are screen captures from videos I was unable to upload. The first shows the Frazer fur branches exploding. They ignited not like normal kindling but more like the wood contained an accelerant. It looked and sounded like the fire was started with gasoline.

Here is the fire after the fir branches were consumed and the kindling was burning as it normally would.
For those who still have their trees up, look at them closely and think about how dry they may be. I didn't appreciate how dry mine was but it is out of the house now. Better late than never.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks (6+ / 0-)

    for sharing your concern with the community.

  •  The violence of the fire burst surprised me (7+ / 0-)

    I got a Noble fir again this year. Normally they are good for at least 3-4 weeks and still soft to the touch. Within 2.5 weeks, mine was so dry that needles were snapping off. I got freaked out, took it down the day after Xmas, and hauled it out to the balcony, where it still sits until tomorrow. (Got rained on so probably not so flammable.)
    I was afraid of just exactly this scenario. Did not know how violent it would be.
    Nice public safety diary, Marihilda.

    America is a COUNTRY, not a CORPORATION. She doesn't need a CEO. Vote Obama.

    by manneckdesign on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 09:38:45 AM PST

    •  Thank you. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maryabein, NapaJulie, rb608, BachFan

      The whooomp sound it made as it exploded was truly freaky. I was glad for the ceramic door on the fireplace insert! I can't imagine how this would play out if you burned the branches in a regular fireplace.

      Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. Marx

      by Marihilda on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 09:44:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Did you use any of those chemical packets (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NapaJulie, Marihilda

      that they sell to put in the water to prolong the life of the tree? I also wonder whether some tree producers spray their trees with anything to keep them green longer.

      •  I didn't use any of those chemicals. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        If they sprayed this tree, they did a hell of a job. That was the first thing I thought about when I examined it outside this morning. Doesn't look like they did but gosh I would have thought there would be at least some brown needles given its condition.

        Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. Marx

        by Marihilda on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:57:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wow! (7+ / 0-)

    T&R so that others who may have live trees will see this.

    Glad you only learned of the danger of your tree in the fireplace!

  •  Scary. (8+ / 0-)

    I'm surprised the tree got that dry with a base full of water.  Did you cut an inch or so off the bottom before setting it up?  That's supposed to let it take water better, since the sap tends to clog things up if the tree sits out too long after being cut.  Or so they say.  I set up a reservoir of water with a siphon hose running to the base so I don't have to crawl under the tree.  Getting too old for that, you know.
    I'll also suggest that, while a few branches for kindling probably won't hurt, you really shouldn't burn evergreen wood in your fireplace.  It leaves a lot of creosote, and chimney fires aren't any more fun than Christmas tree fires.

    •  Yes we cut the tree on the bottom at the lot. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bill W, NapaJulie, rb608, BachFan

      This tree was accessible enough so it always had water so I am not sure what happened. This is not exactly a fireplace-- it's a fireplace insert which you probably know is a wood stove in the fireplace as opposed to a wood stove sitting on the hearth. We have our chimney cleaned every spring and the company who does it and installed the sleeve going from the firebox up the chimney told us any wood is fine to burn as long as it is dry--even sweet gum which I always thought was a no no. We use a combination of different woods from trees on our property. The fire burns incredibly hot once it gets going. Clearly this stuff from the Christmas tree is dry. Thank you though for that advice and it may be more pertinent to a brick chimney for a conventional fireplace.

      Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. Marx

      by Marihilda on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:08:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It might have been dry to begin with. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marihilda, elmo, NapaJulie, rb608

    However, thanks to TV's Mythbusters, we needn't worry about lights setting the tree a-flame.  Modern lights have safety fuses to prevent that sort of thing.  We use LED lights they don't even emit any heat.

    HOWEVER...don't overload your extension cords and outlets.  You could still create a short circuit that throws off sparks.  And overloaded extension cords do get hot.

    More here.

    •  I have a string of fluorescent (that's right-- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elmo, NapaJulie

      fluorescent) tree lights from the 1950's. Unbelievably they keep on keepin' on which may be why no one makes them anymore. But they don't have safety fuses so I guess I'm taking a chance with them.

      I am thinking the tree was dry to begin with because it never drank the amount of water our other trees have.

      Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. Marx

      by Marihilda on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:20:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the important message and that's (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marihilda, NapaJulie, jwinIL14, rb608

    why I switched to a flameproof artificial tree a few years ago. I
    was spending up to $50 a year on a real one that was a huge
    mess to clean up after 3-4 weeks inside and also that fire hazard thing had me worried.

    Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. - Einstein

    by moose67 on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:12:26 AM PST

  •  As the Christmas season starts earlier and (6+ / 0-)

    earlier one effect of this is what becomes of the trees. When I was a kid, we put up the tree a few days before Christmas. More recently people put up their trees soon after Thanksgiving. Now the custom seems to be that people put up their trees several days before Thanksgiving to be "ready" for Christmas.

    And since people want trees earlier and earlier, the growers must cut them earlier and earlier, so the results are zombie trees. They're still standing, but are completely dead and dangerous.

    Christmastide according to the liturgical calendar begins on Christmas Day and lasts 12 days until January 5th. Epiphany or Three Kings' Day begins on January 6th. But a living tree cannot stand the rigors of the modern holiday which is really intended to stimulate buying. Thus we begin putting up trees before the Advent season (28 days long) begins.

    Advent and Christmas add up to 40 days which is too long for a live tree. Either put your tree up later, or get an artificial one if you want to keep it that long. It's not math, just arithmetic.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:14:19 AM PST

  •  Dry Trees Burn Like A Jet Engine (5+ / 0-)

    It's practically an ideal mixture of fuel and air

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:19:32 AM PST

  •  Ahem...allow me... (7+ / 0-)

    So my retired FF husband and brother repeat the mantra over and over and over..."it's like a 10 gallon drum of gasoline just waiting to explode and burn the house down!"  Honestly...had a fake tree for so many years that I dream of the scent of fresh pine needles.  It's become a joke that if I leave as much as a tea light burning somewhere in the house, it's considered an "un-protected flame!!!!"  Welcome to my world...
    This warning is important (all joking aside) because they have not only witnessed the horror of dry tree fires, my husband lost two very dear, sweet coworkers in a house fire a few years back.  He misses them every single day.

    "I'm Grandma-delicious because his mom is so nutritious..."

    by NapaJulie on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:30:33 AM PST

    •  Oh that is awful and sobering too. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NapaJulie, Catte Nappe, BachFan

      My house burned down when I was a kid. It was a natural gas fire and there was an explosion. One neighbor took photos of it for keepsakes, how thoughtful. Fortunately we were out of town because we'd have died if we had been in the house. I take fire very seriously and though I am not ready to give up the live tree, I am going to examine it better when I buy it and buy it later and take it down sooner.

      I get everyone's similes--10 gallon drum of gasoline, jet fuel. Don't have to convince me!

      Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. Marx

      by Marihilda on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:53:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I used to sell Christmas trees as a fundraiser for (7+ / 0-)

    our local garden club.  Every customer got my speech plus a flyer about fire danger and proper care. The oil in needles and the sap is like lighter fluid when it dries.  I've seen them explode from just a candle too close.  Never decorate with lights that have questionable wiring or feel hot.  Never place near a heat source, especially a forced hot air register.  Giving the stump a fresh cut, and keeping water full are only temporary measures.  If water uptake slows/stops and/or there is any excessive needle drop, then time to get it outside pronto!  

    Father Time remains undefeated.

    by jwinIL14 on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 10:38:10 AM PST

  •  Candles are another danger (5+ / 0-)

    particularly with all the other Christmas decorations, paper, and evergreen in the mix.  

  •  We're live tree folks. (4+ / 0-)

    One, we never buy from a lot.  Who knows how old those trees are when they get there?  It is a great family activity to go out together and select one.

    Two, we don't start early.  A couple weeks before Xmas is the soonest we'd cut one.  

    Three, as said above, keep checking the tree and keep it watered at the base.  Most times, ours make it just fine to 1/05, but after that, or if the needels get dry, it's out the door with it.  (BTW, a tree bag is great for reducing the needle mess on that trip.)

    Lastly, I usually keep my tree out in the back yard until a summer bonfire, then toss it on whole.  It's spectacular for a short while.  No, you do not want that in your living room.

    "It is not, you fucking liberal prick." ..My RW friend Dave's last words to me.

    by rb608 on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 11:26:58 AM PST

  •  Spare a thought then... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, Marihilda, NapaJulie

    ...for the men and women who fight our drought-stricken forest wildfires. Same problem on an unimaginably gigantic scale. Thanks for their service and bravery year in and year out.

  •  For new years, I've burned our tree.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marihilda, NapaJulie midnight every year for the last twenty for of five years. Stand it up vertical and flick the bic on oue branch at the bottom.

    Impressive! My neighbors all expect me to do it these days.

    Rule #7...If you supported the Iraq war, you don't get to complain about the national debt.

    by suspiciousmind on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 01:24:32 PM PST

  •  "dangit...."four or five years" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Rule #7...If you supported the Iraq war, you don't get to complain about the national debt.

    by suspiciousmind on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 01:25:22 PM PST

  •  Insurance company video of this (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, Marihilda, jwinIL14, NapaJulie

    They lit a standing tree in one of their safe burning areas. I don't know if it's on Youtube, but I saw it at a presentation from a local firefighter.

    It was a torch in less time than it would take to pick up a fire extinguisher. Just as the crowd was realizing what a horror it was, the firefighter said "Now how do you feel about artificial trees?". I feel much better disposed toward them.

    Heed the diarist. There's not one iota of exaggeration.

  •  we get ours around Dec 4, and it usually leaves (0+ / 0-)

    the house on Jan 1 or 6. So that's about 4 weeks.

    Luckily, we are in Oregon, so ours are VERY fresh when we get them. Cut a fresh surface and check the stand water every day. I think this year's was taking up more than 2 cups of water a day for the first 3 weeks, then about a cup a day for the 4th week. we had hardly any needle-drop at all. maybe a half-cup-ful when we swept up after taking it out.

    the side branches are all coming off and the main trunk will get chopped into firewood lengths. we would usually set those aside for about a year to dry. the needle-branches may go in compost, or organic/yard debris garbage, OR into the fireplace by the small handful! just a very small amount because boy it sure does go fast, as per your picture. If you put in as much as you would regular small tinder, I'm not surprised you got that "explosion", 8-)

    we find the LED tree lights a great help in more than one way: they do not give off heat themselves, AND you can connect many more strings together because of the low, low wattage requirements.

    "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

    by chimene on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 12:25:17 AM PST

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