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96-foot Christmas tree catches fire and burns near South Coast Plaza

An early morning fire Monday destroyed a giant Christmas tree outside the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, fire officials said.

The 96-foot-tall white fir from Mount Shasta burst into flames about 6:30 a.m., Costa Mesa Fire Department spokesman Capt. Chris Coates said.

Crews arrived within minutes and quickly doused the flames, Coates said, but not before the blaze consumed the tree and its decorations.

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“It’s still standing but it’s gone,” Costa Mesa police Sgt. Matt Selinske said.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the blaze, but so far there is no indication of arson, Coates said.

Juan Giron was just showing up for work at the Westin when he heard a loud pop and saw flames spark near the middle of the tree.

A maintenance crew cleans the area around the giant South Coast Plaza Christmas tree which was destroyed in an early morning fire in front of the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa on Monday morning.

A maintenance crew cleans the area around the giant South Coast Plaza Christmas tree which was destroyed in an early morning fire in front of the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa on Monday morning.

(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

“It caught on fire real quick,” he said.

The blaze devoured the tree so rapidly that only a charred skeleton with a few lingering flames was left when firefighters arrived, Giron said.

“That tree was pretty much destroyed in less than 5 minutes,” Coates said.

The tree had been treated with a fire retardant, but it did little to slow the flames, according to Coates.

“In this case, the fire was so active and so hot that it consumed the whole tree,” he said.

The fire didn’t cause any injuries or affect the hotel or other buildings, according to authorities. It caused minor damage to nearby foliage, Coates said.

The enormous tree installed by South Coast Plaza is a yearly tradition in Costa Mesa. The 34th annual tree-lighting ceremony took place last month at Town Center Park, where the tree is displayed behind the Westin across Bristol Street from the world-famous mall.

Wendy Lembke stopped to look at the aftermath on her way to work at the nearby Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Usually she’s greeted by green branches filled with oversized decorations.

“It’s like a friend,” she said.

Lembke learned the tree burned down when a co worker posted a picture of it on Facebook Monday morning.

“It was so unreal I thought it was a Photoshop,” she said. “It’s really sad.”

Coates said the tree costs about $120,000.

Despite being completely blackened, the tree was still standing Monday, partly because the trunk was sunk 10 feet into the ground when it was installed, according to Coates.

“It’s very stable,” he said.

In the next day or two, South Coast Plaza officials plan to shave off the tree’s branches and string it with new lights.

“They’re making the best of a bad situation,” Coates said.

Jeremiah Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

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