An Eau Claire apartment’s Christmas tree went up in flames midmorning on Tuesday.

The tree, shrouded in twinkling red and white lights, had a small pile of boxes wrapped in festive paper nestled beneath its branches. There was a brown couch to the tree’s left, a window to its right. The flames licked their way up the tree’s dry pine needles before engulfing the ceiling and the living room’s surrounding features in a thick, dark smoke.

Safely stationed away from the structure, Kurt Wedig of Mount Horeb received a text message on his phone: “Extreme heat detected: Research mode Living/​Dining! ALARMING NOW!”

But the cluster of people standing outside the structure weren’t worried — it was just a test, after all. The apartment, while modeled after a real Wisconsin unit, was built for experimental purposes and housed inside the Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Fire Safety Center. 

The tree burning was part of Wedig’s company OneEvent’s final testing for its fire alert system, which collects data on carbon monoxide, heat, smoke and motion, and alerts building tenants of any irregularities that could lead to a problem.

“We can actually send out an alert up to 20 minutes before the average smoke detector goes off,” said Avi Rosenthal, vice president of marketing. “Twenty minutes is a lifetime when it comes to escaping a burning building.”

Wedig and his colleagues have been running tests at the Fire Safety Center for the past couple of weeks, taking advantage of the facility’s 30-foot concrete walls and ceiling lined with fireproof tiles. CVTC built the test apartment based on a real Wisconsin unit that will eventually have OneEvent technology. During its soft launch, the company installed about 40 systems in various homes and businesses. OneEvent will launch commercially Jan. 1.

Part of the system’s value, Wedig said, is its ability to perceive threat levels based on its collected data. For instance, customers won’t have to endure loud beeping from their detector while they cook — they’ll just get an alert text message.

“If a detector goes off too easily, people take them down and won’t put them back up,” Wedig said. “That’s when you have problems. They almost become background noise.”

Eventually, Wedig said the system will expand so firefighters can have access to an online 3D model of buildings with OneEvent technology that displays where the fire began and where people are located within the structure. 

Kim Nessel, a retired batallion chief of the Eau Claire Fire Department, was decked out in protective gear Tuesday as he managed the test fire. He said the preventive approach to the new system is the key to helping people get out of a burning structure safely.

“It’s huge,” Nessel said. “They’re setting the limits on early detection so they don’t trigger on false alarm and build up a lack of trust on detectors. I cannot stress enough early detection.”

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter