Fake Christmas tree caused yacht club fire

Posted at 4:21 PM, Dec 21, 2015

Investigators say the fire at the Annapolis Yacht Club earlier this month was caused by an electrical malfunction in a pre-lit artificial Christmas tree.

The Dec. 12 fire caused more than an estimated $9 million in damage to the building, according to the Annapolis Fire Department.

See related: Firefighter hurt battling yacht club blaze

Fire Chief David Stokes gave the following statement:

We have seen two unfortunate fire tragedies during this year's holiday season as a result of Christmas Tree fires. This past January our community suffered the tragic loss of members of the Pyle and Boone families from a Christmas tree fire. I'm very concerned that yet another Christmas tree has had a major impact on our community. There is still a lot of holiday season left. I urge the community to be mindful of potential dangers of holiday decorations and the practice of good fire safety habits.

Senior Deputy State Fire Marshall, Bruce Bouch says fire caused by Christmas trees can be serious.

"It's not only just the tree, it's also the packages, the gift wrapping around it, anything you have near it, carpet, those items are all combustible," he said.

See also: Annapolis Yacht Club vows to rebuild after devastating fire Saturday

Annapolis fire officials say one out of every three Christmas tree fires are sparked by an electrical problem, and a heat source too close to the tree causes about one in four of the blazes.  It's something experts say you need to take seriously, and it starts with your strings of lights.

"Every time before placing these in use, you want to check the wiring on any of the lighting you’re using,” Bouch said.  “Over time the vinyl coating can become brittle and actually fall away exposing the wire."

Artificial trees are usually fire resistant and typically will burn slower than natural ones, but the burning plastics can mean harmful smoke.          

Related: Restaurants offer jobs, help to displaced Annapolis Yacht Club workers

Back in January, a dried out 15-foot live tree was to blame for a fire that killed Don and Sandra Pyle, along with four of their grandchildren.  Making the Yacht Club blaze the second catastrophic Christmas tree fire in Annapolis this year.

"The key thing that it did not have was fire sprinklers in place,” said Bouch.  “Had fire sprinklers been in place it would have contained that fire to the tree of origin and would have been considerably less amount of damage."

Here are some general Christmas Tree safety tips from the Annapolis Fire Department:
For live Christmas tress:
  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Artificial Christmas tress:
  • Buy only trees that have been tested for fire resistance by an approved independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
  • Inspect your artificial Christmas tree for frayed wires and cracked sockets. If you see any of these things, the best thing you can do is discard the tree.
  • If using stringed lights, Use only lights that have been tested by an approved independent testing laboratory, such as UL or FM. Replace any lights that are worn or frayed.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets, and never plug more strands of lights together then recommended by the light manufacturer. Do not hide extension cords under a rug.
  • Do not place the tree between the occupants and the exit.
  • Keep in mind while the tree may be flame retardant or flame resistive, many times the decorations are not.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.