COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — The odds are low but the danger is high. Christmas tree fires don’t happen very often but when they do, it can be devastating.

Mary Bubala has more.

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It took only 15 seconds for a dried out Christmas tree to totally burn up. On average, 230 house fires start by Christmas trees; property damage tops $18 million and half a dozen lives are lost each year.

The demonstration was put on by the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering. It’s not meant to scare but to educate.

“Obviously don’t keep an open flame near a tree. Some people decorate a tree with candles—horrible idea. If you are putting lights on a tree, make sure the wiring is okay. If you have a space heater or some other heat source, just keep it away from the tree,” said University of Maryland grad student Isaac Leventon.

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A third of tree fires are caused by electrical failures or malfunctions. Real trees are responsible for more fires every year but artificial trees can burn as well—and they can release toxic chemicals as they burn.

Leventon teaches math and physics courses for high school students at the University of Maryland. They’re studying the physics behind the fire. Part of the lesson for all of us: it took much longer for a fresh, watered tree to burn up by a full three to four minutes.

Experts say make sure to turn off your Christmas tree lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

For more Christmas tree safety tips, click here.

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