Holiday tire tree in Smithfield causes a stir

Town councilman says tire company’s unusual display is a fire hazard

dquizon@newsobserver.comDecember 17, 2012 

— A time-honored holiday tradition has made its way from Garner to Smithfield, but not everyone is impressed.

Rockside Tire, a shop on Bright Leaf Boulevard near Market Street, has an unusual Christmas decoration – a pyramid-shaped stack of tires crowned with a brightly-lit star. The “tire tree” has been adorned with lights, ornaments and garland, just like the Fraser firs found in living rooms during the holiday season.

The Garner-based tire merchant, which opened its shop at the location seven years ago, has been adorning a tire tree in Garner for years. Charlie Hansen, the owner of the chain, said it helps attract attention and makes an impression that lasts year-round.

But where Hansen sees a creative advertisement, some town leaders see a fire hazard.

Last week, Charles A. Williams, an at-large member of the town council, asked the fire department to look into the display, which he referred to unflatteringly as “a pile of tires.”

But a review of fire codes and town ordinances showed the tree was in compliance.

“At this point, we can’t seem to find anything in the fire code that says it’s not legal to do that,” said Patrick Harris, chief of the Smithfield Fire Department.

Williams said he felt the tire pile was a hazard, in part, because the pile is close to a wooden storage building on the property and the wooden pillars for a billboard.

“Being so close to wood structures, I would think it’s a hazard,” Williams said. “The tires are stacked 5-6 feet high; it could easily become a bonfire.”

Harris said he has no desire to shut the display down, but he does see it as a risk.

Harris is checking with the state fire marshal to see if anything in state law could chop down the tire tree. If the fire marshal doesn’t find anything, Harris said, he doesn’t plan to pursue it any further.

Williams said he would consider a town ordinance that would restrict tire trees. He said he doesn’t yet know what such an ordinance would look like.

Harry Edwards, who manages the Rockside stores in Smithfield and near Clayton, said tires are not as flammable as many people think. “It’s very hard for tires to catch fire,” he said. “When it does catch fire, it’s very hard to put out, but it’s hard for them to catch fire.”

Rockside has crossed the town’s path before. About a year ago, someone complained that tires were too close to nearby railroad tracks. The town ordered the store to fence in an outdoor area where it stored used tires.

Edwards said he doesn’t understand why the town is pressuring the store about the display when it has piles of tires stacked in the back of the store. “We’ve stacked tires here since we opened the doors,” he said.

For Smithfield residents, the display is a quirky piece of Christmas art. Edwards said all other feedback has been positive.

Hansen acknowledged that the tire tree might not appeal to everyone.

“Do I think it’s Biltmore quality?” he said. “No. But I think it can make people smile.”

Quizon: 919-836-5768

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