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Fire prevention during the holidays

Festive lighting, windowsill candles and ornamented Christmas trees are staples of the Christmas season, but these decorative items also pose a fire risk if handled improperly.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated annual average of 230 home structure fires that begin with Christmas trees.

On average, one of every 40 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a death, compared to an average of one death per 142 total reported home fires, according to a press release from the Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Extreme caution should be used to prevent a normally joyous times from becoming tragic.

In addition, holiday lights and other decorative lighting are involved in an estimated annual average of 160 home fires per year. These fires cause an average of nine civilian deaths, 16 injuries and $8.4 million in direct property damage per year.

“December is an exciting time where just about every home in the neighborhood is accented with decorations and seasonal lighting,” Alabama State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk said in a release. “Although decorations and Christmas trees certainly spread holiday cheer, it is important to follow basic safety steps so celebrations go off without a hitch.”

Here are a few Christmas time safety tips from the NFPA and your Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office:

• Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.

• Keep lit candles away from decorations or anything that can burn. Paulk advises against the use of candles altogether: “Remember, a candle represents an open flame which can easily ignite anything that can burn.” “Certainly, never use lit candles to decorate your tree,” Paulk said in a release.

• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory and check the packaging. Some lights are only for indoor use.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more strands than instructions recommend.

• Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.

• Keep decorations away from windows and doors.

For proper Christmas tree safety:

• Keep your tree well-watered. The drier your tree, the more dangerous it becomes.

• Replace any string of lights with worn or broken bulbs or loose bulb connections. Connect no more strands than instructions recommend.

• Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

• Get rid of the tree when it is dry. Check for recycling opportunities in your area.

• Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent deterioration and hazards and to make them last longer.