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State Fire Marshal

A Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Ring of fire

By Bob Reif
Fire and Life Safety Educator

Here we are in December having endured another year in “The After." Or perhaps our current time period would be more accurately terms “the During,” as the pandemic and its variants continue – Minnesota having been listed at or near the top of states with the highest infection rates.​ ​Many things have returned to some semblance of normal and families will be gathering for the holidays.

We Minnesotans love to decorate our homes with lights and greenery no matter what holiday we celebrate in December and January.  Pine boughs and wreaths are the order of the day for many of us.

My wife and I bought a home in 1993 that had a real wood-burning fireplace. I had no experience with fireplaces and I had not yet entered into a career in the fire service or I surely would have known better. I made a rookie mistake that could've resulted in tragedy. Thank goodness that didn't happen.

Charring on the bricks around a fireplace

As we slid into January 1994 I decided it was time to take down the holiday décor. The wreath hanging on the front door was dry and faded and had been out there since Thanksgiving. I decided to just toss it in the fireplace and be rid of it. Well, as you might have guessed the resulting flare-up was practically explosive.(Whenever I relate this tale of woe, Johnny Cash's “Ring of Fire" begins playing in my head). The flames burst out of the firebox and up the brick face and mantel above the hearth – the charring is still there 28 years later – and flying, fiery pine needles burned holes in the linoleum on the family room floor.

Be smarter and safer than I was so many years ago. Water any evergreens you cut or purchase for indoor holiday decoration and dispose of that tree, any pine boughs, tree toppers or wreaths safely – which means not tossing them in a fireplace, a wood-burning stove or a recreational family fire. The results could be deadly. Check with your trash hauler or community public works department for recommended disposal of those greens. You might also check out our fact sheet about Christmas tree safety.

Here's wishing you happy – and safe – holidays!​​​​​​​