Local News


Contact 13 does artificial tree fire test

Posted at 2:48 PM, Sep 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-25 17:48:40-04
Unknown. Unregulated. And now, a proven hazard.  
We're talking about the fake palm trees that went up in flames at the Cosmopolitan pool two months ago.  
While county leaders are still waiting to find out what the trees were made of, Contact 13 is doing some testing of its own.  
On July 25, blazing artificial palm trees spread fire around the 14th floor Boulevard Pool.
Smoke invaded hallways.  Fire broke the slider glass of one hotel room and started spreading inside. 
Though no one was seriously injured, the potential for disaster was planted all over the pool deck.  
Firefighters said the fake trees went up in flames like 20-foot-tall cans of gasoline.
Though the Cosmopolitan was in full compliance with fire code, experts Contact 13 spoke to say building and fire officials should have foreseen an issue with the fake trees.  
Experts say trees like these burn well because they don't dump their heat.  In Clark County, the trees are considered decorative.  
If installed outside, they're not regulated, and they can be added or subtracted without the county's knowledge.
But experts we consulted say county officials should have asked about the materials before approving the Cosmo's plans.
With help from Ralph Glidden of Nevada Flame Specialists and under controlled conditions at the Las Vegas fire training center, we put two artificial plants to the test. One that's inherently fire retardant and one that's not.  
No one from the Cosmopolitan will tell us whether their fake trees were fire retardant. Experts say that's unlikely considering how they burned.
We start our test with the fire-retardant plant.
You can see the leaf curl away from the flame so it doesn't add to the heat source, which is what it's designed to do.  
But watch what happens when Ralph lights the material it's planted in.
Darcy: Wow!  Look at that!
Ralph: This is flame retardant but the plant isn't -- the whole thing is not. That will probably burn for a long time.
Not only the flame, but you see the smoke that's coming off it.
Our second test is a non-fire-retardant plant which looks like a small Sego palm.  It's actually harder to get this plant to burn, but once it ignites, the foliage itself catches and contributes to the fire.
The foam core at the tree's center acts like a torch.
The county building and fire director told me it's very hard to fireproof outdoor fake plants because the sun's ultraviolet light degrades everything.  
We wanted to show you what the Cosmopolitan's fake palms look like up close, but no one would talk to us on camera or allow us on property to get video.