Christmas Tree Fires: Statistics & Prevention Tips

December 5, 2018
Written by Lucy Murphy, CISR

preventing christmas tree firesShopping, baking, decorating: with all the things you’re doing this time of year, taking extra time out for safety can seem like a tall order. But there are several basic precautions—like checking your cords and watering your tree every day—that can mean the difference between a happy holiday and a dangerous disaster. Here are the facts:

How many Christmas tree fires occur each year?

U.S. firefighters respond to roughly 200 Christmas tree fires per year, according to the NIST. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which keeps track of Christmas tree fire averages, charts a steady decline in tree fires since 1980, when Americans suffered nearly 850 tree fires per year! But tree fires are still happening too often, given the fact that they are largely avoidable.

Are Christmas tree fires dangerous?

Yes. Tree fires are more dangerous than people realize. According to the NFPA’s 2017 report, Christmas tree fires are more deadly than other reported home fires—resulting in one death per 32 occurrences on average, compared to one death per 143 home fires.

Can Christmas trees catch on fire from holiday lights?

One-fourth of Christmas tree fires (26%) are the result of electrical problems or heat sources—including electric lights, fireplaces, radiators, and candles– kept too close to the tree. Decorative lighting or Christmas tree lights cause 18% of Christmas tree fires.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re using Christmas lights as safely as possible:

  • Check all strings of lights carefully before hanging. It’s not uncommon for cords to suffer water damage or get gnawed on by rodents.
  • Throw away Christmas lights with frayed, chewed, or cracked cords.
  • Replace loose or broken bulbs; make sure you know the correct wattage to replace with.
  • Do not exceed maximum number of light strands that can be connected, as per manufacturer’s instructions on the box.
  • “Touch test” your extension cords after plugging them in and removing. They should not be hot.
  • Do not tuck extension cords under the tree skirt or other area rugs.
  • Unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your house.
  • Make a fresh cut on your tree stump before standing it (or ask the Christmas tree vendor to cut the trunk for you.) Water it immediately and daily, for as long as the tree continues to take in water.
  • Choose the freshest tree you can find. Look for one with needles that don’t pull off easily, ideally with some sap on the trunk.

How fast can Christmas tree fires spread?

In controlled tests, fire researchers found that a dry Christmas tree can become engulfed in less than 10 seconds. And “flashover” occurs roughly 70 seconds after an un-watered tree is ignited. Well-watered trees, by contrast, do not usually allow flames to spread beyond one section of burning branches.

Are fake Christmas trees safer than real Christmas trees?

Real Christmas trees are three times more likely to be involved in a Christmas tree fire, compared to artificial trees. But that doesn’t mean artificial trees can’t catch fire. If you have a fake tree, you still need to be careful not to place it too near a heat source, and to use appropriate lighting, according to all the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re in the market for a new artificial tree, make a point to shop for a flame-resistant model.

Can I use indoor Christmas tree lights outside?

If you have to ask, you probably already know this is a bad idea, right? But do you know why? It has to do with whether or not the lights have been tested and rated for use in damp/wet conditions. If the lights aren’t sealed against moisture, they will probably stop working after heavy rain or snow. More importantly, if lights aren’t corrosion-resistant they could become an electrocution hazard as the insulation deteriorates and exposes electrical connections. Bottom line: outdoor lights can be used inside, but inside lights should NOT be used outside.

When are Christmas trees a fire hazard?

Experts recommend keeping live trees for no more than four weeks, and ensuring they are adequately watered during that timeframe.

Dried-out Christmas trees can remain a fire hazard after the holidays, too. Make arrangements to have them picked up as soon as possible; do not leave a dead tree in your garage or leaning up against your house.

Fortunately, many towns will pick up trees for free. Here’s the information for surrounding towns:

Christmas Tree Pickup in Mansfield, MA

Mansfield’s Highway Dept usually collects trees and wreaths (for free) during the first two weeks of the new year. If you miss this window, you can also bring your tree (with proper transit sticker) to Recycle Park. In either case, trees must be completely bare of lights and ornaments. If you have any questions on the 2019 schedule, contact the Mansfield Department of Public Works: 508-261-7335.

Christmas Tree Pickup in Attleboro, MA

The town of Attleboro also collects trees and wreaths, typically starting the second week in January. In addition to cleaning trees/wreaths of decorations, please do not place in plastic bags. For information on the 2019 pickup schedule, please contact Jessica in the Attleboro Health Department at 508-223-2222 Ext. 3245 or email

Christmas Tree Pickup in Foxborough, MA

The town of Foxborough typically collects trees during the last few days of December and early January. They require no ornaments, no garland, and no lights. To get specific dates for 2019, contact the Foxborough DPW/Highway and Tree & Park Division at 508-543-1228.