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Firefighters issue warning about Christmas tree fires

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO – Christmas trees are one of the centerpieces of most homes during the holidays, but they can also be one of the most dangerous decorations.

An estimated 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. The National Fire Protection Association estimates 200 Christmas trees will catch fire.

The team from West County EMS & Fire Protection District gave Fox 2 a demonstration of how quickly a dry tree can go up in flames. Capt. Corey Meyer says a dry Christmas tree can burn and spread fast.

"Tonight, it was probably about 20-30 seconds that it went up in flames," said Meyer. "Then you could see how it actually dispersed among the room and almost lit one of the recliners on fire."

For people buying a real tree, choose one that is fresh. Meyer said to make sure it has plenty of water, and check the water twice each day.

Limit the number of Christmas lights strung together, and make sure the lights used are UL certified and appropriate for the space. Indoor lights should not be used outdoors.

Do not use lights with broken cords or loose bulbs. Plug lights directly into a wall, and avoid overusing extension cords and overloading power strips.

Keep the tree away from things that could cause it to ignite.

"You want to make sure you don't have it next to a space heater," said Meyer. "You want to make sure you don't have it next to a fireplaces or open flames. Keep it around three feet away from anything like that."

After Christmas, residents should not leave a dried-out tree in or near their home or garage.

There are local recycling programs.

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Should a fire start near the Christmas tree, Meyer said residents should not try to put it out themselves. Get out of the house immediately and call 9-1-1.

"Have two ways out of your house. Make sure you have working smoke detectors. When you get out, get to your safe place and call 9-1-1."

Meyer said Christmas lights should be turned off every night before residents go to bed.