ST. GEORGE — Thanks to the quick actions of a staff member, the residents of an assisted living facility in St. George were safely evacuated after a Christmas tree caught fire Sunday evening.

What is left of a Christmas tree that caught fire at an assisted living home in St. George, Utah, Nov. Dec. 4, 2023 | Submitted photo, St. George News

Using a fire extinguisher, the employee put out the flames while the residents were evacuated from the affected area and were waiting outside when the first engines rolled up, reported St. George Fire Department Batallion Chief Robert Hooper.

Firefighters and emergency personnel were dispatched to the Ridgeview Senior Assisted Living facility for what was initially reported as a residential structure fire.

Inside the building, Hooper told St. George News firefighters found that a small artificial Christmas tree had caught fire in one of the rooms, but the flames were extinguished prior to their arrival.

Fire crews did find heavy smoke throughout the section of the building where the tree had caught fire.

“Even though this was a small contained fire, it did create a lot of smoke,” Hooper added.

Firefighters opened several doors that were left ajar to circulate the air and then ventilated the building using the facility’s fans. After about 30 minutes, Hooper said, the smoke cleared and it was safe for the residents to go back in the building.

Just before the call, the facility’s staff noticed smoke coming from one of the rooms, and when they went to investigate further, Hooper said, they found a 12-18-inch artificial Christmas tree ablaze.

The fire likely started from some type of electrical issue, Hooper said, and it was the facility’s staff who acted swiftly to douse the flames and to make sure the residents were led out of the building safely.

“They did a great job in making sure the residents were safely outside while they dealt with the emergency situation inside,” Hooper said.

The damage following Sunday’s fire was confined to the tree that was destroyed in the blaze. The facility sustained little if any damage once the smoke was cleared from the building and no injuries were reported.

Deck the halls without burning them down 

The incident serves as a reminder that the holiday season typically means there are more lights, candles and other decorations in and around the home, which can also pose an added fire hazard.

It’s no wonder that December typically sees a spike in fire calls, Hooper said, and electrical issues tend to be the primary source of many of the structure fires the St. George Fire Department responds to during the holidays.

Fire prevention specialists remind people to always check for any frayed wires or bulbs, and be careful not to overload the circuit by connecting too many lights to an outlet, for example. Also, running more than three strands of lights together end-to-end increases the risk of fire, and never plug one extension cord into another.

Infographic depicts a list of Christmas tree safety tips to reduce the fire danger during the holidays | Image courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association, St. George News

When stringing lights outdoors, make sure all lights, extension cords and other electrical wires are labeled specifically for outdoor use, and avoid using regular staples or nails when hanging lights on the house. 

Fire calls involving unattended candles are also higher during the holidays, Hooper said, and while candles are a fire hazard year-round, more people tend to light them inside their homes during the holiday season. Always place lit candles on the stovetop or in another area that is a safe distance away from the Christmas tree, greenery, and other flammable decorations and never leave candles lit when leaving the house or are otherwise unable to attend to them.

One of the deadliest types of fires that occur during the holiday season involves live Christmas trees. If not properly watered, Hooper said, they tend to dry out and can easily ignite and become fully involved in a matter of seconds.

Hooper recommends checking the tree regularly to make sure it is properly watered. Also important is checking for any electrical issues or broken bulbs when hanging lights on the tree, as is unplugging the lights before leaving the house. 

An illustration of how quickly a fire can burn through a tree is included in the video at the top of this report, courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association.  

Holiday fire fast facts

According to the National Fire Protection Association,  fire departments across the country respond to an average of 150 house fires involving Christmas trees, while another 790 residential structure fires involve decorations each year.

Roughly one-third of all home decoration fires are started by candles, but that number jumps to nearly half of all fires in December. 

Thanksgiving Day has the highest number of cooking fires during any given year, followed by Christmas Day and  Christmas Eve.  

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in roughly one-third of all residential fires involving a Christmas tree, and roughly 20% of these fires were caused by lamps or bulbs. Another 8% were caused by candles, and more than one-third of all Christmas tree fires were reported in the living room. 

This report is based on statements from police, emergency personnel or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. 

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