Is your Christmas tree a fire hazard?

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CHEYENNE, Wyo.- "People who have a fire, there seems to be nothing worse."

Those were the words of Fire Prevention Chief Byron Mathews of Cheyenne Fire and Rescue. Mathews said a a home fire can leave people with a great loss when they realize their home and family possessions are gone. However, Mathews said the most important part during a structure fire is making sure everyone involved is out safe.

Cheyenne Fire and Rescue officials say they tend to see a spike in structure fires around the month of December. Mathews said the higher numbers may be because more people are home, there's more cooking, and people aren't always as attentive as they should be. In addition, the holidays usually mean more people are bringing more flammable items into their home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, Christmas tree fires are not very common, but their results can be more serious. NFPA says from 2011-2015, one out of every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death compared to an average of one death per 143 reported home fires.

Fire Chief Greg Hoggatt of Cheyenne Fire and Rescue said when there's a dry pine tree in your home surrounded by lights, candles, packages underneath and sometimes space heaters, it's a perfect environment for a serious fire.

To help show the dangers involved with a tree fire, Cheyenne Fire and Rescue lit a tree to demonstrate how fast it takes for the tree to burn, the area to heat up and the smoke to accumulate.

After three minutes, the tree lit up in flames, and after about five minutes the tree was almost completely burned. Mathews said if you consider the time it takes for fire crews to arrive at your home and how fast the tree can go up in flames, he added, "Five minutes, that fire is going to spread throughout the whole home."

The best way to prevent the fire from happening in the first place is to make sure your Christmas tree is watered daily, monitored and away from anything that can cause the tree to heat up.

However, the best way to make sure you stay alive in the situation is to make sure you have a working smoke detector. Hoggatt said, "The smoke is the silent killer. The carbon monoxide will kill people in their sleep. It's odorless." He added, "If they have a working smoke detector in their house to give them that alarm, to wake them up and get them moving, they would stand a better chance. Smoke detectors save lives."

Although Cheyenne Fire and Rescue say they did not respond to any home Christmas tree fires, they say it's still a concern and something the want all citizens to be aware of. To help keep your home safe, fire officials say it's important to make sure you're checking your smoke detectors twice throughout the year.