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Gone in 60 seconds: The frightening reality of Christmas tree fires (Video)

Wednesday - 12/18/2013, 4:59am  ET

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Chief Marc Bashoor talks about Christmas tree safety. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
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CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. - Finding the perfect fir to serve as a living room centerpiece is a Christmas tradition for many families. But that fir holds a frightening truth -- the risk of fire.

That tree that brings so much joy, could end up turning lives upside down.

"They'll put it up, they'll put the lights on it. They'll do everything that's part of decorating and being festive for the season but they won't remember some of the basics," said Chief Marc Bashoor of the Prince George's County Fire and EMS.

Tuesday night, the department demonstrated how quickly a tree can ignite using a 6-foot-tall tree complete with presents and an old pair of incandescent Christmas tree lights with frayed wires.

"Every one of those frayed wires has electricity conducting through it," said Bashoor.

The tree was also dry.

"You can see every time -- I'm pulling off the needles which means this tree is definitely at the point that it is too dry," said Bashoor as he brushed his hand over the needles.

As part of the display, a heater was set up, which added to the tree's dryness.

He says adding a bad set of lights to a dry tree is "a recipe for disaster!"

On Bashoor's cue, the lights were plugged in -- immediately followed by a loud pop sound.

After 1 minute, 13 seconds, the tree and the presents underneath it were no more.

"Just think about, now, the stairwell. This fire is going up the stairwell and into the bedrooms upstairs," said Bashoor.

How can you avoid a tree fire?

  • When purchasing a tree, there's often wax at the base to prevent moisture from getting in or out. If the base isn't cut off about two inches from that point, the tree won't be able to draw in water.

  • Don't put candles on, near or under the tree under any circumstances.

  • Finally, if your tree does catch fire don't try to put it out. "You weren't going to put this out with a pot of water," says Bashoor. He advises getting everyone out of the house and calling 911.

Still not convinced? Check out the video below to see just how long it takes for a spark to desolate a Christmas tree.

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