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Getting A 110-Foot-Tall Christmas Tree To The Citadel Outlet Is Even More Complicated Than You Think

Since 2013, the Citadel Outlets in Commerce has displayed what's considered the "World's Tallest Live-Cut Christmas Tree." (Courtesy Citadel Outlets)
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The Citadel knows how to go big for the holidays. Since 2013, the outlet mall that looks like an Assyrian palace has displayed the "World's Tallest Live-Cut Christmas Tree." (Note: We haven't measured all the cut trees on Earth and cann't confirm this claim).

At 110 feet, it requires quite a journey to get it from the forest to the mall, where shoppers can take selfies in front of it until the new year.

This year, the Citadel's tree was cut on private land near the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Victor Serrao, president of Victor's Custom Christmas Trees, oversees the process. He says finding "the one" out of all the trees isn't easy.

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"There's steep hills, waterways, burial grounds and endangered species. So there's a lot of restrictions," Serrao said. "The tree has to be perfectly shaped and in an area we can physically get to and we're allowed to get to."

This year, Serrao's team chose a white fir. Known for their lemony scent and silvery green needles, white firs are a common Christmas tree choice. They can grow as tall as 200 feet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the area where the Citadel's white fir was cut, an average of two to three trees are planted in for every tree that has been harvested, according to Campbell Global, the company that manages the land and is in charge of replanting.

Serrao sees the cycle of cutting, clearing and planting as a major part of keeping the forest healthy.

"[Timber companies] keep all the brush and everything down," he says. "[The forest is] not as affected as much by fire and you can see these trees growing and thriving, spaced apart, disease free."

When the tree is cut, it never hits the ground. Instead, a crane holds it from the top. Then the white fir is laid on an 80-foot flatbed truck, which leaves some of the tree hanging over the end. But that truck doesn't head out on the highway.

"A truck of that size gets a permit with the California Highway Patrol," Serrao explained. "You can drive only from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. You can't drive in these traffic hours [because of] the gridlock, so they're isolated to those times."

When the titanic tannenbaum arrives at the Citadel, 1,000 additional branches, taken from other trees, are added to make it look more festive.

Each branch hole has to be drilled. The branch ends are whittled to fit the holes then slid into place. It takes a little under a week to get the Yuletide gem filled out.

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Once that's done, the tree is sprayed with a custom flame retardant, which also adds a green tint and some extra hold to keep the needles in place. Then it's all about lights and ornaments, which are also done in a big way.

Steven Craig is president and CEO of Craig Realty Group, the development company that owns the Citadel. He's behind that huge red bow on the shopping center wall during the holidays. You can see it from the 5 Freeway every year. He likes putting a twist on holiday tree lights.

"This past couple of years, we've done a variation of LED lights that are changeable, so it has a little bit of movement to sound, and we try to make it a memorable experience for everyone," Craig says.

There will also be 10,000 bows and ornaments on the tree. You'll find classic round bulbs, long, finial shaped baubles and bells and stars in red, gold, green, blue and silver.

After the new year, that huge, white fir will be recycled, along with so many Christmas trees left on the curb. It may even end up mixed in with your neighborhood's mulch.

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's Take Two.

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