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Holiday Fire Safety Tips

Cobb County's fire safety expert tells you how to have a safe holiday season.

The holiday season is in full swing, which means early morning shopping sprees, bundling up for cold weather and decorating your home to get into the full spirit. But sometimes "chestnuts roasting over an open fire" can turn into "burning down the house."

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, between 2003 and 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to about 260 Christmas tree fires a year. Those blazes killed an average of 14 people and caused $13.8 million in property damage yearly.

Dennis Rucker, the public fire and life safety specialist with the Cobb County Fire Department, offers some useful tips that will make your house safer for the holidays, starting with the tree.

If you're using a real Christmas tree, Rucker advises that you inspect the tree before you strap it to the roof of your car. Live Christmas trees should be fresh and hydrated. The best way to determine whether your prospective tree is fresh is to shake it. If the tree is shedding pine needles, it is too dry and is more prone to catching fire.

Once you have that perfect fresh tree, keep it hydrated by setting it in a base filled with water. Additionally, avoid leaving the tree near heat sources such as space heaters and fireplaces. Smokers should avoid flicking their ash in the direction of the tree.

Decorative lights also can pose a holiday risk. Rucker suggests inspecting your lights every year after you take them out of the box. Any light strings with exposed or frayed wiring, gaps in insulation or broken bulbs should be thrown out. That could make Christmas costlier, but that's the price of removing dangers from your home.

Furthermore, Rucker advises that indoor lights are meant for use indoors, and outdoor lights are meant for use outdoors. It is unwise to mix and match lights.

Another suggestion can make your home safer and cut down on your power bill: Turn off the lights when you are heading out the door. Although it's nice to come home to the glowing warmth of lights garnishing your doors and windows, unattended decorations can lead to fires.

Furthermore, make sure your decorations are nonflammable or fire-retardant.

Some people like to add candles to the overall holiday ambience. Rucker said that's a bad idea that can lead to disaster.

"Candles set a good ambience for the holidays, but there are better alternatives," Rucker said. "If one must use candles, make sure they are not left unattended and are never placed near the tree or other flammable objects."

Flameless, battery-powered candles are a much safer holiday alternative. They give off no heat but flicker like real candles. Some also come with scented inserts to enhance their effect.

Having a safe holiday season doesn't end on Christmas morning. Sometimes families rid themselves of excess, torn-up wrapping paper by throwing it into the fireplace. But wrapping paper burns extremely quickly and can roar out of control. The best way to dispose of wrapping paper is to recycle it.

Holiday fires are for the most part preventable, so be vigilant to ensure your season remains festive.

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