NFPA 1: Requirements for artificial and natural cut Christmas trees. #FireCodefridays

Blog Post created by kristinbigda Employee on Dec 2, 2016

I've learned a lot about Christmas trees since working with NFPA 1, Fire Code.  How much can there be to learn about a Christmas tree?  Homes have them, businesses have them, place of worship have them, schools may have them, restaurants have them.  I hate to be a Grinch, but Christmas trees can be a pretty severe fire hazard when not properly attended to or when not fire tested appropriately.  There are provisions in place to make sure buildings and residences that wish to enjoy Christmas trees can do so while staying safe.


Check out this video.  In this case, a room with a dried out Christmas tree may achieve flashover conditions in under a minute.  This shows that Christmas trees have the potential to greatly contribute to the overall fuel load of a compartment.  When it comes to a family escaping their home, seconds can count.  One minute just isn't enough.


Natural Christmas trees, by their nature, are initially fire retardant. The problem arises when they have been cut and packaged without access to water for extended periods of time. The fire danger of Christmas trees and similar vegetation increases when the bottom end of the tree is not freshly cut and immediately placed in water when
purchased. Other concerns include the length of time Christmas trees are on display (retail stores often set up outdoor displays of trees before Thanksgiving.) 


The species of tree and the rate of moisture loss are important factors in determining the extent of moisture loss. Of the various types of evergreen trees available, the Noble fir retains its moisture longer than other species. The best preventive measures include using a freshly harvested tree, cutting the butt or bottom end immediately before placing it in water, and checking the water level frequently to ensure that the tree water container is filled. The person responsible for the display should check the tree periodically. When needles shed easily, the tree should be removed or replaced, since trees dry from the inside out.


These days, artificial Christmas trees come in all shapes and sizes.  They even come pre-lit (who wants to spend the time stringing the lights? Not me!)  UL has published a fantastic white paper about the reducing the fire risk of pre-lit trees.  This publication addresses the research that led to the development of performance testing criteria for pre-lit artificial trees.  It is a valuable resource for consumers and code officials when evaluating the safety of artificial trees.


NFPA 1 addresses Christmas trees in Section 10.13:

  • Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees must be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant.
  • Allowances for Christmas trees are specified by occupancy and found in Table
    • Note: Christmas trees are prohibited or limited in their placement in occupancies that pose special problems due to the capabilities of occupants, occupant or management control, or the number of occupants. Some exceptions permit live, balled trees, if maintained, and trees in locations where automatic sprinkler systems
      are installed.
  • Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees must be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant.
    • The fire retardance is demonstrated by each individual decorative vegetation item, including any decorative
      lighting, in an approved manner.
  • Christmas trees can not obstruct corridors, exit ways, or other means of egress.
  • Only listed electrical lights and wiring can be used on natural or artificial Christmas trees.
  • Do not locate open flames such as from candles, lanterns, and heaters on or near Christmas trees.
  • Where a natural cut tree is permitted, the bottom end of the trunk must be cut off with a straight fresh cut at least
    1⁄2 in. (13 mm) above the end prior to placing the tree in a stand to allow the tree to absorb water.
  • The tree is to be placed in a suitable stand with water and the water level must be maintained above the fresh cut and checked at least once daily.
  • The tree shall be removed from the building immediately upon evidence of dryness.


In addition to the Code requirements, NFPA also provides a resource page dedicated to Christmas tree and decoration fires.


Have you had any trouble enforcing provisions for Christmas trees? How does your facility ensure Christmas trees are maintained?


Stay safe, and happy holidays!