Effective July 1, 2004, Christmas trees will be prohibited in churches, apartment buildings, meeting halls, stores, jails, schools, hospitals, day care centers and any other public gathering place in the state of Washington if they are not equipped with an approved sprinkler system.
The act is part of the national building codes approved by the Washington Building Codes Council, coordinated with the International Code Council. The penalty for violating the codes could be up to a $1,000 fine as well as a mandatory court appearance.
According to the King County Journal, Steve Nuttall, fire marshal and member of the Washington Building Code Council, said building and fire officials have been trying for years to improve building codes and coordinate local amendments, but "the ability to enforce it, at the very least, will be very difficult." On June 11, 2004, the Washington Building Code Council will have a meeting in Olympia, Wash. to consider an emergency amendment to allow cut Christmas trees to be displayed.
According to MSNBC, the Christmas tree ban will most likely be removed at the council meeting. Nuttall said the code was considered suspect because Washington grows very different Christmas trees than other states.
In October 2003, Virginia adopted a ban on live Christmas trees in apartment and condominium buildings that didn't have sprinkler systems. Violators faced a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and one year in jail. After two months, the fire code was amended to allow tenants to set up trees in apartments and condominiums in time for the holiday season. However, the code still prohibited trees in churches, schools, department stores and meeting halls without sprinkler systems. Hospitals, adult-care centers and nursing homes were prohibited from putting up live trees, regardless of whether they had sprinkler systems.
A study conducted by the National Fire Protection Association showed that there were 370 Christmas tree fires nationwide in 1999, resulting in five deaths, 60 injuries and $15.7 million in property damage. In 2000, there were 400 fires caused by fresh-cut Christmas trees nationwide.