Study: Residential Sprinklers Effective on Christmas Tree Fires

August 20, 2008

Residential sprinklers can be effective in putting out fires caused by dry Christmas trees, according to federal safety officials.

The United States Fire Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have completed a report, Impact of a Residential Sprinkler on the Heat Release Rate of a Christmas Tree Fire, which demonstrates the value of residential sprinklers in such cases.

“Residential sprinklers can not only contain, but in most cases, put out a fire even before the local firefighters arrive. Residential sprinklers are able to prevent some of the tragic consequences of the more than 400,000 residential structures fires that occur annually in the United States,” said U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade.

This report and accompanying videos demonstrate that even under conditions of extreme fire growth, a single sprinkler was able to prevent flashover, control the tree fire, and limit the spread of fire to other objects.

In addition, properly maintaining a cut tree is important to retaining high moisture content in the needles of the tree, which will limit accidental ignition and prevent rapid flame spread, according to the report. A tree that has dry needles can readily ignite with a flaming source and generate heat release rates capable of causing flashover in residential scale rooms.

“This project’s experiments demonstrate that a small amount of water can have a significant impact on a fire,” said NIST fire protection engineer, Dan Madrzykowski. “In the experiments where the tree was maintained, the moisture contained in the tree provides resistance to ignition. In an experiment with a dry tree, a residential sprinkler flowing 9 gallons per minute controlled the fire.”

To review the report and videos of the experiments, please visit the Research section of the USFA Web site at

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