Within 150 seconds, a little spark in a makeshift living room, decorated for the holidays, turned into a 1,200-degree raging inferno.

The main culprit — an artificial Christmas tree in the corner, that hadn't passed strict safety tests and was flocked with fake snow. Professionals on the scene of the safety demonstration said the dangerous prop represented the same fire load as a living Christmas tree that hadn't been watered responsibly.

"During the holiday season, because of the decorations and alternate heating sources that are often put into place, the risk for fire increases," said Rich Mikutsky, director of the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety. "During the holiday season, about 20% of the home fires are caused by decorations that are put up for the holidays."

According to the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters respond annually to an average of 170 home fires that are reportedly caused by Christmas trees, and hundreds more that are started by holiday decorations. A death is reported for every 52 reported home fires that began with a Christmas Tree, on average, according to the association.

"Keep the tree away from candles, keep the tree away from heaters, fireplaces," Mikutsky said.

Groups suggest that consumers keep their trees hydrated by adding water daily. The use of ice cubes may be more convenient for folks — they're easier to place into the tree stand and you don't have to worry about spilling water.

The fire safety advocacy coalition Common Voices also urges individuals to turn off or unplug their tree lights before going to bed or leaving the property. Your tree should be removed immediately after the holidays, even if you think it's not dry, the group says.

Other tips to help prevent home fires this holiday season:

  • Use lights approved by a national testing organization such as UL.
  • Replace loose bulbs or any string of lights with worn cords.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets.
  • Don't leave candles burning unattended, or where they can accessed by kids or animals.
  • Do not place the Christmas tree where it would block an exit.

During the Thursday morning presentation hosted by the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board and Local Sprinkler Fitters 696, professionals lit two nearly identical rooms on fire — one was equipped with a sprinkler head on the ceiling, and the other was not. In the room with a sprinkler, most of the blaze was put out within 30 seconds, before firefighters would arrive with hoses. In the non-sprinklered room, temperatures reached 300 degrees within 30 seconds and everything was destroyed within minutes.

"That residential fire sprinkler is going to knock that fire down, keep it to the point of origin, keep it to where it begins. It doesn't always put the fire out, but it keeps it small so you can get out and stay alive," said David Kurasz, NJFSAB's executive director.

Fire sprinklers are required in the national building code in all new construction, but New Jersey is one of the many states that keep that standard out of their own code, Kurasz said.

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