Missoula fire officials are urging the public to dispose of their Christmas trees before they become a fire hazard after a Christmas tree partially burned a home outside of Great Falls Wednesday.

Fire officials say it's especially important to toss your tree before plugging in space heaters when temperatures fall below zero this week.

The Frenchtown Fire Department says the day after New Year’s Day is one of the most popular days for people to get rid of their trees.

"People like to keep their trees up well past New Year’s, but it's something that we strongly encourage people to remove from their home and get that fire hazard out," said Frenchtown Fire public information officer Mel Holtz.

Holtz says, though Christmas tree fires are uncommon, they do happen.

"We had one in Great Falls a few years ago, and just a few days ago we had one in Fairfield," he said. "When they do happen those Christmas trees do go really quick. They (ignite) combustible materials inside your house and they do cause a lot of damage."

Holtz says if you find pine needles collecting on your floor or the tree’s needles are crisp and fall off when you touch them, it's time to remove the tree, because it's dead.
"When you cut a fresh Christmas tree down you're working against time, you're trying to water it, but it's a dying tree at that point," Holtz added.

Holtz wants to remind the public that open burn season is closed, and it's prohibited to burn your tree on your property anywhere in the county.

A steady stream of cars flowed in and out of Missoula's McCormick park Monday as people dropped off trees for recycling.

"I'm just dropping off a Christmas tree for my sister," said Jordan Rogers. "It was getting pretty dry, so we decided it was time to take it down and get rid of it. It's just crumbling away."

"It's just important because you've got lights on there, anything can go wrong, especially if you have little ones in the house, you don't want anything to happen," Rogers said.

Missoula city officials say Fort Missoula is not accepting recycled trees this year due to construction. They say residents should take their trees to McCormick or Playfair parks by Jan. 15.

Park officials ask those looking to recycle their trees to remove all tree decorations including tinsel. They say all the trees will be ground into bark and distributed along Missoula's trails.

Park officials say 15,000 trees were donated in 2015.

In Kalispell, volunteers will pick up trees left on the curb once a week through Jan. 29.

Bozeman residents can drop off their trees at the BMX park on Tamarack Road, Christie Field on Mason Street, the softball complex on Haggerty Lane or the Gallatin County Regional Park north of Oak Street through Feb. 14.

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