Earlier this year, a Connecticut court upheld an arson conviction for Randal Licari. The fire, which destroyed Licari’s home and resulted in a large insurance payment, occurred during the holiday season and appeared to involve a Christmas tree. Initially, fire investigators could not determine the cause of the fire but stated it seemed ‘‘to be accidental in nature and more probably than not caused by the Christmas tree.’’ It turns out that Licari’s Christmas tree was freshly purchased and well hydrated and therefore could not have accidentally caught fire. Further investigation revealed that he had placed Duraflame logs under the Christmas tree and lit them. Licari did not have a fireplace in his home.
This case is a reminder that although Christmas trees can start fires (the National Fire Protection Association estimates about 210 Christmas tree fires per year), the moisture content of a Christmas tree plays a significant role in how hazardous it can be. A DRY tree burns very quickly and will become fully engulfed in flames within 30 seconds. However, a properly hydrated tree will not burn. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducted several tests and attempted to light a well hydrated tree with a match, electric current attached to an entire matchbook, and an open flame applied with a blow torch (see the test results here with video). The needles burned a bit while the open flame was applied but they self-extinguished quickly. So, this holiday season, if you choose to have a real Christmas tree in your home, remember to keep it well hydrated! And don’t light Duraflame logs directly underneath it.