Preventing a nightmare before Christmas: Keep your family safe from tree fires

NORTHBROOK, Ill. -- Christmas tree fires are not extremely common. However, according to the National Fire Association, when they do happen they're more likely to be fatal.

If you've chosen a real tree for the holidays taking care of it should be a priority.

Contact 6's Jenna Sachs joins testers at Underwriters Laboratories for a tree fire demonstration.

Contact 6's Jenna Sachs joined Underwrites Laboratories (UL) testers at their campus in Northbrook, Illinois to look at the importance of picking the right tree and maintaining it.

"Fire departments around the United States are getting ten calls a day just based on Christmas trees alone," explained Steve Woynerowski of UL.

UL testers set up a simulation with two real Christmas trees. One had started to dry out. The other had been watered regularly.

Steve Woynerowski of Underwriters Laboratories

"We're going to light both of these trees simultaneously so you will see the difference in terms of how quickly they will ignite," Woynerowski said.

The two trees were lit remotely. The fire immediately started to spread up the branches and 30 seconds later the flames on the dry tree were high enough to reach a ceiling.

The flames on the fresh tree reaching ceiling level about 30 to 40 seconds later. It's extra time that could help a family get out safely and even save lives.

"Probably within the first 15 to 20 seconds, most people think they can probably grab a hand-held fire extinguisher. Both of those fires were beyond a fire extinguisher. You really should immediately evacuate the building and call 911," Woynerowski said.

The dried out tree (left) burns faster than the fresh tree (right).

If you don't want this to happen in your home, make sure you choose a  tree with fresh, green needles that don't fall off when touched. Once you've chosen a tree, make sure two inches are cut off the base.

"What that'll do is allow the tree to absorb water," Woynerowski said.

Once the tree is up in your home, regularly check the water level. Most trees absorb a gallon within the first 24 hours.

Also, keep tabs on the lifespan of your tree.

"Most of these trees should only be displayed for about four weeks," Woynerowski said.

When you're setting up your tree, keep it away from any radiators or source of heart, which can dry out a tree prematurely. And, make sure the wires on any lights decorating the tree aren't aged or cracked.

If you've got a pre-lit artificial tree, some of this advice still applies. Keep it away from heat sources and make sure the lights aren't cracked. In addition, look for a UL mark on the tree to see if they are certified by the lab and turn off your lights at night,.