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Fire Scorches 96-Foot Christmas Tree At South Coast Plaza

COSTA MESA ( — A fire destroyed a giant Christmas tree at a Costa Mesa mall Monday morning.

A valet parking attendant and maintenance worker called 911 at 6:34 a.m. to report the blaze outside Westin South Coast Plaza at 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa Fire Capt. Chris Coates said.

Twenty-thousand lights can be heard popping as flames scorched the 96-foot white fir in Costa Mesa's Town Center Park, which is adjacent to the Westin Hotel.

"Witnesses state there was a loud pop about two-thirds of the way up the Christmas tree, which was on fire," Coates said. "You could see the smoke column from miles away."

The tree, which came from Mount Shasta and cost $120,000, had been lit since Nov. 23.

Fire officials said the tree was treated with fire retardant but was no match for the furor of that fire. The tree was gone in five minutes.

Investigators said security video revealed nothing suspicious. "Preliminary indications are not leading us to believe it's suspicious in nature. However, you can't rule that out right now," Coates said.

Investigators are also looking into the possibility of an electrical short caused by Sunday night's rain. "The fact that we have electrical running outside, sometimes the careless use of that can lead to a fire," Coates said.

Fire authorities have some advice when it comes to stringing lights for holiday displays at home. Make sure you check for cracked cords, frayed ends or loose connections. Replace old strands with modern lights that have fused plugs. Because water can get in, plug lights into a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet.

Instead of hauling away the tree, crews will strip away the charred branches and stabilize the trunk before installing the lights back on in the shape of a Christmas tree.

"The plan moving forward is to have a company come out, cut off the top of the tree where it seems to be non-secure, put a collar around it, shave off all the branches and put vertical lighting on it so that it looks like a Christmas tree," Coates said. "So we'll still enjoy Christmas with a tree."

A South Coast Plaza spokeswoman said the shopping center's 34th annual tradition will continue. "We are working to have a new tree in place by the end of week," Debra Gunn Downing.

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