Christmas tree on fire: house and Christmas ruined

By Margarita Snegireva. Always the first one awake, Joseph Wakefield Jr. got up Sunday and realized the circuit breaker had tripped in his Citrus Park home overnight.

He went into the garage about 7 a.m. , flipped a switch and restored power to the living room, including the lights on an artificial Christmas tree.

Within one minute, flames and smoke were spilling out of the electrical outlet that powered the tree.

Within two minutes, the smoke alarm was chirping, walls were burning and Wakefield's wife, Bonnie, his 16-year-old granddaughter and her friend were escaping through doors and windows, St. Petersburg Times report.

Within five minutes, the entire house at 5825 Bitter Orange Avenue was engulfed in flames.

"If it had taken us just a few minutes longer to realize what was going on, we would have never gotten out of there," said Wakefield, 61.

No one was seriously injured in the fire, though all four in the home were treated at St. Joseph s Hospital for smoke inhalation.

The Red Cross has been contacted, and officials say they've already been in touch with the family to offer their assistance. The Mandarin Lakes Homeowners' Association has also offered their assistance. Authorities say the family has lived in the close-knit neighborhood for about 13 years, and many who know them want to help.

Captain Delk says firefighters are constantly warning people to be careful with their real Christmas trees and make sure they stay watered, but those who decorate using artificial trees need to exercise caution as well.

"With these artificial Christmas trees, people store them in their attic, they take them out, they've had them for years," said Captain Delk. "They don't go through and look at the wires and make sure everything's safe. I can't say that's what happened in this case, but it's one of those things that you want to get that Christmas tree out from the attic and make sure that all of the electrical components are in working order."