WORCESTER, Mass. - As people begin to cut and decorate their Christmas trees, students in the Fire Protection Engineering program at WPI are making use of their combustion lab to show how dangerous those trees can be with just a small spark.

What You Need To Know

  • WPI fire protection students held a controlled burn of two Christmas trees

  • They aimed to show the importance of watering your tree and limiting other hazards

  • A watered tree and dry tree were burned in the school's combustion lab

  • Students and fire officials hope the demonstration reminds people how fast the fire can spread

Students, along with their professor and members of the Worcester Fire Department, held a controlled burn of two Christmas trees - one was properly watered, while the other was not.

Kyle Shriberg, vice president of WPI’s student chapter of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, said a visual reminder can be an effective tool to promote fire safety.

“To imagine anyone sitting in that room while an electrical failure happened, or God forbid sleeping in a different room, that’s a matter of life,” Shriberg said. “If that’s blocking an exit to the house, that whole room is ignited.”

Albert Simeoni, a professor in WPI’s Fire Protection Engineering program, said time is the key difference between a properly-watered tree burning and a dry tree burning.

“The difference between the total burning of them is very minimal, you know, but it's the time,” Simeoni said. “I mean, one more minute for you and your family to leave the house can save your life. If anything like that happens, just go out as quickly as possible.”

The watered tree burned slower and reached a temperature of 1,755 degrees, while the dry tree reached 1,902 degrees in a fraction of the time.

Adam Roche, assistant chief for the Worcester Fire Department, said it’s a very familiar situation for his crew.

“We've seen it before and we tend to see it from year-to-year,” Roche said. “As trees dry out, they really burn violently. At the demonstrations, it’s great to have a hands-on feel, to get it out in the public and let people know how dangerous these can actually be.”

For students like Shriberg who plan to start a career in fire protection, there’s pride in helping keep people safe, and he hopes everyone does their part.

“In these demonstrations, you're able to kind of show people and educate people the dangers that are kind of inherent in our everyday lives, whether you know it or not,” Shriberg said.