When you're decking the halls this holiday season, be fire smart

The National Fire Protection Association reports an average 170 home fires are caused by Christmas trees every year, with one of every 45 such fires resulting in a death.

In addition, on average, 800 home structure fires began with holiday decorations other than Christmas trees. Candle fires peak in December and January, and rank second in the nation as the cause of house fires during those months. The incidence is heightened on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Kevin Krushinski, chairman of the New Jersey Fire Safety Commission, said a small fire that spreads to a Christmas tree can grow very large, rapidly and out of control. He said a fire will double in size every minute.

So he suggested that when a person is shopping for a Christmas tree, choose one with fresh, green needles that don't fall off when touched. Place the tree three feet away from any heat source, which include fireplaces and space heaters.

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Make sure the tree is not blocking an exitway or a path. Add water often. If there are pets in the house that are prone to lapping up the water in the tree base, add ice cubes that will melt slowly in the tree reservoir. Select lights for the tree that are not worn. If there is a crack in the insulation on the wire for the lighting, replace it. Use clips, not nails to hang any lights so the cords do not get damaged.

Krushinski said it's not a good idea for people to leave live Christmas tree lits when they are not at home. He strongly encouraged making sure lights are turned off and unplugged before leaving the house. Shorts in lights can lead to blazes while families are home or away.

Candles are also a problem. He said to keep them in a sturdy base and away from pets such as cats, who have a tendency to knock things over, possibly igniting a couch or some other combustible material. If a candle is lit, blow it out when people leave a room, then re-ignite it upon return.

He also encouraged that smoke alarms be checked and tested. Replace the batteries twice a year. Guests who come over and smoke should do so outside the home.

"It's not more difficult to put out fires this time of year, but it hits home more that a family has to suffer a tragic loss during such a joyous time of year. To see them displaced from their home because of a simple accident is disheartening. It hits home to every emergency responder," Krushinski said.

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