Tips to keep your Christmas tree safe from catching fire this holiday season

A Christmas tree goes up in flames during a demonstration. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)
A Christmas tree goes up in flames during a demonstration.

A Christmas tree burns quickly during a fire demonstration. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)
A Christmas tree burns quickly during a fire demonstration.

A live Christmas tree is seen before it goes up in flames. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)
A live Christmas tree is seen before it goes up in flames.

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A Christmas tree goes up in flames during a demonstration. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)
A Christmas tree burns quickly during a fire demonstration. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)
A live Christmas tree is seen before it goes up in flames. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)

Many people have Christmas trees set up in their living room for the holidays. Just make sure they’re a festive centerpiece and not a fire hazard.

“Keeping your tree well watered is the real key to keeping it safe,” fire research scientist Isaac Leventon, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering, said.



Dry trees pose the biggest safety hazard. To demonstrate that, Leventon and other fire safety scientists conducted live fire experiments on a series of Christmas trees to show their burning behavior.

Leventon said the best way to avoid this fiery scenario is to fill up the base of the tree stand with water and check it daily to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

He also said to watch for signs of drying like bristles falling off, or the tree changing color from a dark green to a lighter brown.

Also, be cautious not to place the tree near potential ignition sources in the home.

“The main ignition sources that we see from [National Fire Protection Association] statistics are either going to be electrical in nature — so poor wiring, faulty lights or a local heat source, so an open flame or a space heater,” he said.

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, nearly 94 million homes in the United States had at least one Christmas tree in 2020; the large majority were artificial trees.

However, fires involving natural trees were twice as common as fires involving artificial trees.

Leventon warned that artificial trees can still catch on fire and release toxic chemicals. In 2015, an artificial tree caught fire at the Annapolis Yacht Club and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Between 2014 and 2018, fire departments nationally responded to around 160 home fires each year that began with a Christmas tree, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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