ASTM E3082-20: Christmas Trees Fire Retardant Treatments

A Christmas tree in the store, decorated with an array of traditional ornaments including woodland creatures, candles and Christmas pudding that went through ASTM E3082-20 fir retardant treatment.

More than 1,000,000 acres of land have been planted to grow Christmas trees, with more than 2,000 trees typically planted per acre. Maintaining fire resistant Christmas tree forests and tree farms is critical because it reduces the intensity of a fire, making it easier for firefighters to suppress, and increases the odds that the forest/tree farm will survive a fire. The test methods in ASTM E3082-20: Standard Test Methods For Determining The Effectiveness Of Fire Retardant Treatments For Natural Christmas Trees provide a two-step process to determine the effectiveness of surface applied fire retardant treatments to natural Christmas trees.

How Christmas Trees Became a Holiday Tradition

The origins of Christmas trees are rooted in Germany during the Middle Ages. In 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, flour-paste wafers, tinsel, and gingerbread. The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a “paradise tree,” a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve.

The “first decorated indoor tree” was recorded in 1605, in Strasbourg. It was adorned with roses, apples, wafers, and other sweets. The Germans hung wafers on it, and in a later tradition the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles were often added. In the same room was the “Christmas pyramid,” a triangular construction of wood that had shelves to hold Christmas figurines and was decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century the Christmas pyramid and the paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree.

What Is ASTM E3082-20?

ASTM E3082-20 provides a two-step testing process for determining the effectiveness of surface applied treatments for natural Christmas trees to improve fire test response. In order for a treatment to be considered compliant with this fire-test-response standard, the Conditions of Acceptance of both Methods 1 and 2 are to be met:

  1. Utilize a detached branch test (Method 1) to screen potential surface-applied fire-retardant products and to determine their effectiveness in limiting the spread of flame and the continuation of flaming by comparing the burning characteristics of treated and untreated small Christmas tree branches subjected to a small open Bunsen-burner type flame ignition source, and
  2. Use whole natural Christmas trees (Method 2) to determine the effectiveness of surface applied fire retardants found to be effective in the detached branch test (Method 1) through comparison of heat release rate contribution of treated trees as compared to untreated trees when subjected to an open flame ignition source.

ASTM E3082-20 notes that fire testing is inherently hazardous, so adequate safeguards for personnel and property should be employed in conducting these tests.

What Does the Christmas Tree Symbolize?

In ancient cultures, the winter solstice (the shortest day and longest night of the year) heralded brighter days ahead. It was an indication that the sun god was regaining his strength. Evergreen trees retained their color through all seasons and consequently were displayed in coordination with the solstice as a reminder of warmer months. In many countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness; evergreen boughs reminded them of the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return. Ancient cultures have their own unique meaning attached to Christmas trees that tend to relate to the harvest:

  1. Greeks: The coniferous pine was sacred to Attis, the Greek God for flora—the world of vegetation. In the Greek tradition, pine was furnished with silver adornments, and bells and offerings were placed under the tree as sacrifices to the deities.
  2. Romans: Evergreen trees are held as solar symbolism in Roman culture. The trees were a testimony of light to the Romans. During the solstice, they celebrated the festival/feast called Saturnalia to honor Saturn, the God of agriculture. To mark the occasion, Roman people decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
  3. Teutonic (Celtic): Trees of firs and pines were embellished gold torcs and pieces of jewelry. It was done with the notion of paying tribute to the deities of life, to assure a good harvest.
  4. Japanese and Chinese: Pine and cypress trees are sacred in these two cultures and are associated with the meaning of immortality and longevity. The wood from these trees is used to build holy structures, altars, temples, and Shinto Kami structures. Additionally, in these traditions, pine and cypress are believed to possess the force of life which was felt at these holy structures built
  5. Egyptians: The Sun God, Ra, was believed to grow weak as conditions became colder and darker. The solstice was seen as the turning point in seasons, so ancient Egyptians decorated their homes with palm leaves and branches.
  6. Germans: Germany is credited to starting the tradition of decorating the interiors with Christmas trees, and it is a widely held belief that Martin Luther—the 16th century Protestant reformer, first added illuminated candles to the tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
Little toddler girl with Christmas tree on fir tree cutting plantation learning about how to conduct natural Christmas tree fire retardant treatments in ASTM E3082-20.

Branch Test

ASTM E3082-20 maintains that to conduct the branch test trees should be healthy, with no visible pest or disease problems; branches should have no cones nor evidence that cones were present; and if significant needle loss has occurred, such as several needles visibly falling off, the branch is not suitable for use in the fire test. Given that moisture content is the single most important factor relating to the flammability of conifer foliage, ASTM E3082-20 details to conduct he small scale branch fire test 1, 7, 14, and 21 days after treatment of branches. This ensures that potential fire retardants are effective over a range of moisture contents. To test the specimen, personnel should slide it to the test position over the flame for a 12-s exposure.

Who Brought Christmas Trees to America?

Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. In the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

By the 1890s, Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany, and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the United States. Europeans used small trees about four feet in height; Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling. In the early 20th century, Americans decorated their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow continuously. With lights, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.

ASTM E3082-20: Standard Test Methods For Determining The Effectiveness Of Fire Retardant Treatments For Natural Christmas Trees is available on the ANSI Webstore as well as its reline version: ASTM E3082-20 Red: Standard Test Methods For Determining The Effectiveness Of Fire Retardant Treatments For Natural Christmas Trees (Standard + Redline PDF Bundle).

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