How fast can your dried-out Christmas tree catch fire?

Fire Capt. Jason Williams, left, and firefighter paramedic Jacquie Johnson fry a turkey in a pot filled with hot cooking oil during a fire safety demonstration Tuesday at the Orange County Fire Authority training facility in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

It took a small flame — no more than that created by a candle — for the Christmas tree to go up in smoke.

Seconds after an Orange County Fire Authority firefighter put a lighter at the base of the tree, which was still decked out in full holiday fashion with silver tinsel, brightly colored decorations and presents underneath, the tree became engulfed in flames.

In an effort to prevent house fires heading into the new year, OCFA officials demonstrated Tuesday how quickly a dry Christmas tree can become fuel for a fire, destroying not only the tree but an entire home.

A decorated Christmas tree is engulfed in flames during a fire safety demonstration Tuesday at the Orange County Fire Authority training facility in Irvine. It was part of a campaign intended to alert the public to how easily and quickly a tree can ignite and spread fire in a home.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

“The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with family, but too often we see tragedies throughout the holiday season,” said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi.

The demonstration at the Fire Authority training area in Irvine culminated a six-week safety campaign by OCFA, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana and local fire departments. Each week throughout the campaign focused on a different holiday hazard, from deep-frying turkeys to fires caused by portable heaters and Christmas trees.

Pine needles and tinsel crackled Tuesday as the flames licked up the tree, eventually consuming the presents, two couches and even the Christmas stocking hanging on the wall of a makeshift room at the training facility. Black smoke and bits of holiday wrapping floated through the air as the room burned. The tree was bare and charred and the room destroyed within three minutes.

“The heat from your home dries out the tree quickly and it’ll go up much faster than a fresh tree that’s been watered a lot,” Concialdi said.

The scene wasn’t unfamiliar to fire officials.

Over the past two years, OCFA has responded to 21 Christmas tree fires, 20 of which occurred after Christmas Day, when trees are older and drier, authorities said.

On Dec. 14, the 96-foot-tall decorated white fir tree from Mt. Shasta that had been displayed outside the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa was destroyed by an electrical fire. The blaze devoured the giant tree within five minutes, witnesses said.

A tree can be engulfed by flames in three to five seconds and generate more than 2,000 degrees of radiant heat, authorities said.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi speaks during a fire safety event Tuesday in Irvine.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

Officials say the best way to prevent a Christmas tree fire is to remove the tree immediately after the holidays. But if you want to keep the holiday spirit around past New Year’s Day, officials suggest removing the lights from the tree to reduce the risk of a blaze.

Officials also suggest the following:

• Place the tree away from fireplaces, radiators, heater vents, air ducts and other heat sources.

• Cut off about two inches of the trunk and mount the tree in a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide-set legs.

• Fill the base of the holder with water at least once daily.

• Avoid placing breakable ornaments on lower branches where children and pets can reach them.

• Use ornaments and other holiday decorations that are noncombustible or flame-resistant.