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Where there's a tree, there's not always fire

A condo manager banned real Christmas trees before taking a closer look at fire codes.

Published December 11, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The evidence was in the trail of pine needles, a problem Michael Johnson knew had to be immediately uprooted.

The memo he fired off bore an ominous subject line: "Natural Christmas Trees."

Johnson declared that real Christmas trees - the ones that shed those pesky needles - were banned from the Beacon on Third, a 186-unit condominium tower at 470 Third St. S that his company manages.

The city's fire code prohibits natural evergreen trees, "alive or cut," in high-rise apartments, the Dec. 3 edict stated. "Fines up to $500 per day are possible."

According to the 2000 International Fire Code,"cut root trees, including Christmas trees, are prohibited in individual apartments and condos unless the building has approved sprinklers."

The Beacon has sprinklers.

"We can't control what they do in their units, but we can control what they do in their lobby and their common areas," said Lt. Rick Feinberg of St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue.

Feinberg, a deputy fire marshal and public information officer, said real trees that have been treated with a fire retardant are allowed in lobbies and other public areas. Those areas, though, must be equipped with sprinklers, he said. Dried out trees, he noted, are highly combustible.

By Wednesday morning, condominium president Walter Hall was saying that the Christmas tree ban had been rescinded. He said his understanding was that the ban had been in place before the 10-story building was converted from rental apartments to condominiums over the past two years.

As an apartment complex, it had no sprinkler system, Hall said. Now it does.

Hall, who bought an artificial tree when he moved to the Beacon, said he had heard little outcry about the ruling against real Christmas trees. "The funny thing is that no one said anything to me personally, except one person," he said.

The main concern was safety, Hall said.

A woman who apparently had been responsible for the errant pine needles that triggered the banishment of real trees tracked down Johnson on his cell phone to complain. A new notice would go up immediately, he said Wednesday.

"I didn't mean to steal Christmas," he said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.


According to the National Fire Protection Association, approximately one-tenth of one percent (0.12%) of residential fires involve a Christmas tree - real or artificial.

At no time can a real Christmas tree start or cause a fire.

Christmas trees do not spontaneously combust.

In 1998, more than 32-million real Christmas trees were used in the United States. Of these, only 0.00093% were ignited in home fires.

Christmas trees are not as likely to be the first item ignited in residential fires as many other common household items are.

Overloaded electric outlets and faulty wires are the most common causes of holiday fires in residences.

Source: The National Christmas Tree Association

[Last modified December 11, 2005, 02:15:36]

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