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Don't let your Christmas tree catch fire

A Christmas tree on fire. (WJLA photo)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJLA) – Christmas trees are a staple of the holiday season, but they’re also a major fire hazard. In addition, the type of tree you choose could determine the amount of potential damage.

On Thursday morning, the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering hosted a Christmas tree fire demonstration.

Whether a tree is real or artificial, it can still catch fire. UMD experiments (watch them in the video above) showed that a dry tree becomes fully consumed by flames in just 30 seconds. Even a wet, healthy tree burns quickly. Sprinkler systems can lessen the damage, but not fully put the blazing tree out.

Many artificial trees are made of PVC, which produces hydrochloric acid; these tannenbaums are not only flammable, but emit toxic flames.

“If it does ignite, there’s really not all that much you can do,” said UMD engineering student Isaac Leventon. “Christmas tree fires are not overwhelmingly common in the states—we’re gonna have between 250 and 300 per year—but when they do happen, they’re 3.5 times as deadly as a regular house fire.”

U.S. fire departments annually respond to an average of 230 home structure fires that begin with Christmas trees, according to the National Fire Protection Association. On average, these fires cause six civilian deaths, 22 civilian injuries and $18.3 million in property damages each year.

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