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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'Tis the Season -- For Bastards to Ignite Discarded Christmas Trees

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 6:30 AM

If San Franciscans were in the habit of stacking boxes of unexploded shells, TNT cartridges, jerrycans of kerosene, and half-full bottles of Everclear outside their homes, it might be something residents saw fit to complain about. It might even force Gavin Newsom to say "I get it" a few times while blowing it off in one of his state of the city YouTube episodes.

And yet, when dry Christmas trees begin piling up on street corners, that's just business as usual in this city and others. It's also business as usual for arsonists and fire fighters -- and the San Francisco Fire Department is reporting eight to 12 calls a day this month regarding burning trees. 

"When somebody puts a match to one it goes up like a roman candle," says Pat Gardner, the SFFD's deputy chief of operations. Gardner compared a dry Christmas tree's rapid ignition to an explosion. Firefighters' union head John Hanley said his colleagues are enthused about the rain predicted for the next couple of days, as it figures to save them from rushing out to douse tree fires.


Gardner, a 30-year veteran of the SFFD, claimed this is a problem every year -- but it's getting better. Due to more expedient efforts by Sunset Scavenger, Golden Gate Disposal, and the SF Recycling and Disposal Company, he claims massive piles of discarded trees of the sort that used to be ubiquitous in the Western Addition -- like these, photographed in 2008 -- are less and less common. "When those stacks of trees six, eight, or 10 high go up, it looks like a whole house is burning down."

The San Francisco Police Department, meanwhile, reported six calls since Christmas regarding burning trees -- one fire also spread to a nearby vehicle -- and has made two arrests. Apparently, people's first reaction upon watching a tree detonate is to call the firefighters, not the cops.

When asked what San Franciscans could do to stave off an arsonist's delight, Gardner suggested leaving one's tree outside only shortly before a scheduled pickup by the aforementioned services (this sounds like a job for 311!) or driving it directly to the composting and recycling yard.

He acknowledges that this is a lot to ask. "Hopefully, folks are still in the Christmas spirit."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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