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Investigators Announce That a 15-Foot Christmas Tree Fueled the Massive House Fire in Maryland

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In the early morning hours on January 19th, a house fire ravaged the home of an Annapolis couple living on the 900 block of Childs Point Road, taking the lives of both residents as well as their four grandchildren. It took nearly two weeks for investigators to figure out that a Christmas tree is to blame.

Don and Sandra Pyle and their four grandchildren (Alexis, Kaitlyn, Charlotte, and Wesley, ages six to eight) were all asleep when the couple’s Christmas tree caught on fire and caused the flames to spread too quickly to allow anyone to escape.

Many news outlets have described the Pyles’ 16,000-square-foot house as a “Maryland mansion,” and it’s clear that their Christmas tree was big enough for a mansion, too. Measuring about 15 feet tall and holding an estimated 15,000 individual lights, the 60-day-old tree served as the perfect kindling for a fire.

Those close to the Pyles state that the couple had the tree lights turned on “most of the time,” and it’s likely that the lights were on at the time of the fire. Investigators still aren’t sure exactly what caused the tree to catch fire, although an electrical outlet was discovered behind the tree stand, and it’s also possible the the lights finally overheated the dry needles.

Although many homeowners are aware that it’s dangerous to place vegetation within two feet of heating units and fireplaces, people often forget that electrical outlets can be just as dangerous — and that extra-dry, dead plants are an even bigger risk to keep inside.

According to the security company that monitored the smoke alarms inside the Pyles’ house, the first of four alarms detected smoke at 3:29 a.m. The security company reportedly called the Pyles after the alarm went off, and after there was no answer, the company called the Anne Arundel County Fire Department at 3:32 a.m. CBS News also states that a neighbor noticed the flames around the same time, and made a call to 911.

When the first of 85 firefighters showed up at the house at 3:42 a.m. — just 10 minutes after the first alarm sounded — it was clear that the fire had grown too big. It took teams of firefighters from several departments about three hours to extinguish the flames.

Allan Graves, the Anne Arundel County Fire Chief, states that “the fuel load from the Christmas tree itself is… what caused the fire to spread as quickly as it did.”

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