Levonton tree burnThe Event

Each year, the UMD Department of Fire Protection Engineering hosts its Annual Christmas Tree Fire Safety Demonstration. The demo consists of a series of live fire experiments on both natural and artificial Christmas trees to show the burning behavior (size, intensity, and growth rate) of typical Christmas tree fires. These experiments - led by Isaac Leventon, Ph.D. (pictured right) - demonstrate the impact of moisture content on ignition, fire growth rate and peak burning behavior – proof that it is vital to maintain well-hydrated trees.

In addition to providing a qualitative demonstration of Christmas Tree fire behavior and the impact of watering your tree on its ignitability, fire growth rate, and peak fire size, we will use these tests to support ongoing wildfire spread research conducted here at UMD and at NIST, by taking measurements of the yield of firebrands (embers) from these trees as they burn. Much work has been done to characterize the lofting, burning, transport and deposition of firebrands and how they ignite vegetation and structures. Currently, however, no measurement data is available to indicate what fraction (yield) of a vegetative fuel's initial mass will end up as lofted firebrands after burning. Michael Gollner's group is taking small scale measurements of this 'firebrand yield' - the measurements taken during our tree/fire experiments will be the first of their kind for full scale burns of bulk vegetation. The measurements are designed to not only measure this 'firebrand yield' but to determine if (and by by how much) this varies as a function of fire intensity, tree moisture content and vegetative fuel species.


Christmas tree fires are four times more deadly than the average house fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments respond to an annual average of 210 home structure fires that begin with Christmas trees. These fires cause an annual average of six civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damages. One out of every 34 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home fires.


Check back later in the fall semester for the 2020 date!


Department of Fire Protection Engineering
3229 J.M. Patterson Building (Fire research lab)
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742

Spokesperson Availability

Isaac Leventon, Ph.D., Department of Fire Protection Engineering alumnus, and Fire Research Scientist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Program Schedule

Please arrive at least 30 minutes before demonstrations begin so that we can remain on schedule. Volunteers will meet you on site to escort you through our laboratory facilities, and assist with set-up.

8:00 a.m. Introductory Fire Dynamics Discussion: What is a flame, flammability fundamentals, and controlling mechanisms of fire growth; Christmas Tree Fire Safety Tips

8:30 a.m. Small Scale tests – Natural vs. Artificial tree branch fires

9:00 a.m. High Moisture Content Natural Tree Burn

9:30 a.m. Low Moisture Content (Dry) Natural Tree Burn

9:45 a.m. Question / Answer Session

Media Contacts

Katie Holland (301-405-0379, khollan3@umd.edu), Leon Tune (301-405-4679, ltune@umd.edu), or Melissa Andreychek (301-405-0292, mandreyc@umd.edu).


Visitor parking is available one block away at the Regents Drive Garage, located at the corner of Regents Drive and Stadium Drive (diagonally across the intersection from the J.M. Patterson Building). Parking validation codes will be provided and parking spaces for media will be blocked off on the top floor of the garage.

Students, faculty, researchers and engineers from Fire Safety Science and Engineering programs around the world are invited to join us in this year’s "burning behavior prediction" competition - of a Balsam Fir Christmas Tree - from ignition to burnout. The highest individual and highest group scores - i.e., the average scores of all submissions from a single research team or program (minimum 3 team members) - will be announced to all competition participants and the research team (from a University or Research Institution) with the highest average group score will also earn the coveted Golden Pinecone Award.
The competition burn will start at 12:00 pm (noon, EST) on December 18, 2019; the event will be livestreamed for all participants. Our current reigning champions are the members of University of Queensland Fire Safety Science and Engineering Program. Hopefully someone new can dethrone them and earn the Golden Pinecone this year

How to participate: Generating and submitting your predictions

This year, the submission (and generation of) predicted heat release rate (HRR) curves will once again be made possible by visiting https://pages.nist.gov/christmas_tree_fire_safety/. Here, you can use a custom-made app that allows you to ‘build’ (and submit) your own fire by adjusting just four parameters that define:

  • Fire Growth Rate
  • Peak Heat Release Rate (Peak HRR)
  • Duration of Steady Burning
  • Fire Decay

In this app, after you click submit, an email will be generated that contains the four parameters defining your HRR curve. In this email, please remember to add your name, email, and lab affiliation if you wish to receive credit (and final competition results) and CLICK SEND so that we receive your submission.

If you prefer the old system – submitting HRR predictions in massive spreadsheets or .txt files – you may submit those files directly to TreeHRR@nist.gov. These prediction files should be formatted in two columns with a 1 Hz resolution in the format: [time (s) | HRR (kW)].

The Scoring System

Points (100 possible) will be awarded in 5 categories, as listed below:



Peak Heat Release Rate

Up to 20 points; 1 pt for each 25 kW from measured value

Total Energy Release

Up to 20 points; 1 pt for each 1 MJ difference from measured value

Time to Peak Heat Release Rate

Up to 20 points; 1 pt for each 1 s difference from measured value

Duration in which HRR exceeds 80% of peak HRR

Up to 20 points; 1 pt for each 1 s difference from measured value

Duration in which HRR exceeds 50% of peak HRR

Up to 20 points; 1 pt for each 1 s difference from measured value