Local News

Thursday, Dec 19 2013 04:35 PM

Demonstration shows fire dangers around Christmas trees

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    This Christmas tree went up in flames in a matter of seconds after being ignited by a Bakersfield City firefighter during a safety demonstration at the Olive Drive Fire Training Facility.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Bakersfield City battalion chief Anthony Galagaza wants everyone to have a safe holiday season by observing basic safety rules in regard to Christmas trees.

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

It was a picture perfect Christmas display -- a 6-foot Christmas tree, four wrapped presents and three white teddy bears. Within 40 seconds, the Christmas tree went up in flames and what remained looked like the makings of a tragedy.

The "live fire" Christmas Tree Safety demonstration at the Olive Drive Fire Training Facility on Thursday was part of the Bakersfield Fire Department's goal of reminding homeowners to stay safe this season.

As people decorate their trees with lights, Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza said, they need to take precautions to prevent tragedies.

"Water your tree every day and buy a tree that has fresh needles," Galagaza said.

Keeping trees at least three feet away from heat sources such as fireplaces is important as well, he said.

So why would your tree light up in less than a minute if it came in contact with a heat source?

John Wonderly, who flocks trees at Alpine Christmas Trees, said every tree contains oils, even after it has been cut.

"That oil will make that tree ignite in a flash" if it contacts a heat source, Wonderly said.

When he flocks trees, the spray he uses is flame retardant. Spraying a coat of this retardant on trees actually extends the life of the tree, he said.

It usually takes up to 30 days for a Christmas tree to dry out, but with the heat of Christmas lights, it happens faster.

PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen advised homeowners to turn off decorative lights -- indoors and outdoors -- when leaving the house and before going to bed.

All it takes is one bad electrical problem or overheating of lights to cause a fire, both Galagaza and Allen said.

In case of a fire, Galagaza said, evacuate immediately and call 911.

"We want to remind our community that Christmas is a beautiful time of year but make sure to take precautions," Galagaza said.

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