Monday, February 01, 2010

A Small Fast Fire to Greet Short Slow February

Today I decided to see just how fast a dry Christmas tree would burn. We've all been warned about the dangers of Christmas tree fires, and while the numbers are small, there are such fires.

The National Fire Protection Association provided me a handy pdf that says that "U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 250 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees in 2003-2007. These fires caused an annual average of 14 civilian deaths; 26 civilian fire injuries; and $13.8 million in direct property damage."

Nearly half of home Christmas tree structure fires (45 percent) were caused by electrical problems, while over a quarter (26 percent) involved "a heat source too close to the Christmas tree." Candles, the time-honored way that your great-grandparents accidentally torched their tree, accounted for only 14 percent of ignition sources.

The NFPA also noted that "an average of 460 outside or unclassified Christmas tree fires occurred on home properties." That is, let's take the tree outside and burn it! Over at that spot behind the garage, after we have a few more beers! Oops, the garage caught fire.

Instead of having Waste Management haul away our spent tree this year, I put it out next to our woodpile, anticipating a not-too-cold, windless day like today. It hasn't been snowing much in the last week, so I figured it was dry enough to make a nice fire to greet February this year.

But I wasn't about to be a future NFPA statistic, so I cut off the top two feet of the tree and positioned it in our ovoid grill well away from anything else likely to burn, like this:

It took a little doing to get the tree alight. I needed to use a piece of paper as a starter. But once it got going, it created a fast-burning needle fire with some cool popping and crackling sounds to go with it, plus the unmistakable smell of burning evergreen.

In only a few seconds, it was over. The branches themselves didn't really burn that much, but most of the needles did.



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