Christmas Tree Fire Safety

Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious.
Picking the tree

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing the tree

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2″ from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting the tree

  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

After Christmas

  • Get rid of the tree after Christmas. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home. Check with your local community to find a recycling program. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 210 home structure fires per year that began with Christmas trees in 2010-2014. These fires caused an annual average of six civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damage.

  • On average, one of every 34 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home fires.
  • Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are much more likely to be deadly than most other fires.
  • In one-quarter (26%) of the Christmas tree fires and 80% of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
  • Electrical failures or malfunctions were also factors in one-quarter (26%) of Christmas tree fires.
  • Four of every five Christmas tree fires occurred in December and January.
  • More than two of every five Christmas tree fires (43%) were in December. More than one-third (37%) were in January.

Leading causes of Christmas tree fires

  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in one-third (35%) of home Christmas tree fires.
    • Eighteen percent of home Christmas tree fires involved decorative lights.
    • Wiring or related equipment was involved in 11%.
    • Cords or plugs were involved in 4%.
    • Twenty-three percent of Christmas tree fires were intentional. More than half of these intentional fires occurred in January.
  • Heating equipment was involved in 15%.
  • Ten percent of Christmas tree fires were started by someone playing with fire.
  • Candles started 8% of home Christmas tree structure fires.

Leading areas of origin

  • Almost two of every five (38%) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den. All of the fatalities and three-quarters of the injuries resulted from fires started in this area.
  • Seven percent were chimney or flue fires.

To learn more about holiday safety, see NFPA’s Winter Holiday Safety Tips.