- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Christmas tree at North Dakota’s state Capitol this year is plastic, a move made to reduce the fire risk, officials said.

It’s Memorial Hall’s first fake Christmas tree since the building was completed in 1934, about four years after the original statehouse burned down.

“The fire department has been on us about replacing the real trees with an artificial one, so we finally did,” said John Boyle, director of state Facilities Management.

Boyle said the 26-foot-tall fire-retardant tree cost $13,000 and should pay for itself in about 10 years compared to the cost of hauling in real trees from other states. In the past, trees have come from Wisconsin or Minnesota because it’s tough to find a tall Christmas tree in North Dakota, the least-forested state in the union, officials said.

Boyle said it took him and four other workers about three hours to put up the tree on Monday. On Tuesday, it was bedecked with hundreds of handmade ornaments.

Forest-cut trees were only lit with floodlights in the past because of fire risk. The artificial tree is strung with hundreds of LED lights.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple called the artificial tree a “trade-off” that might be rejected by some.

“Everybody in North Dakota probably has a personal opinion on it,” the governor said. “People fall into two groups: real tree people and artificial tree people.”

But he insisted the tree is festive.

“I think when you take a look at it at night, it is really very nice,” he said.

The governor and first lady Betsy Dalrymple plan to host a formal Christmas tree lighting ceremony Tuesday night. The event typically features violins, piano music and traditional carols.

The north and south side of the Capitol will each be illuminated with Christmas trees, following a tradition that has held since the mid-1940s. The two trees are formed using 20 red and 24 green window shades.

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