With the recent news of the warehouse fire which killed 36 people earlier this month in Oakland, California, we are all reminded of how dangerous, deadly and sudden a fire in the right conditions can be.

Now, in the thick of the holiday season as we decorate our homes and offices with fresh-smelling pine trees and bright, twinkling lights, it’s important to keep fire safety in mind, so as not to create dangerous conditions in our own lives.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), 210 home fires start from Christmas trees every year. These Christmas tree fires are responsible for 6 deaths, 16 injuries and $16.2 million in direct property damage annually. This means that one out of every 34 Christmas tree fires results in a death. Compare that to the rate of typical home fires, where one out of every 142 reported fires results in a death. The takeaway is that fires which start from Christmas trees can be significantly more deadly.

Perhaps one reason that Christmas tree fires are so dangerous, is that under-watered trees can burn incredibly quickly. In this video of a controlled live Christmas tree burn conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, you can see that a dried out tree can go from a spark to completely covered in flames in less than a minute.

Lest you think home Christmas tree fires are all the result of things like careless placement next to a fireplace, many of these fires (about a third) involve some kind of electrical distribution or lighting equipment.

Aside from Christmas trees, holiday lighting and decorations can be plenty dangerous on their own, accounting for 860 home structure fires per year. While less deadly than Christmas tree fires, with one death per year on average, decoration fires still cause plenty of harm, being responsible for 41 civilian injuries and $13.4 million in direct property damage. Nearly half of these fires are started by a candle or some other heat source.

So should we all just give up the holiday spirit, throw away our Christmas trees, and spend the last two weeks of December alone and in the dark? Of course not. There are some things we can do, though, to minimize risks of Christmas tree and home decoration fires so that we can all have a safe and festive holiday season.

First, when choosing a tree, pick one that is fresh and green with needles that don’t fall off when touched. Before you put the tree into a stand, cut two inches from the base of the trunk.

When you place the tree in your home or office, make sure it is at least three feet away from any heat sources, such as radiators, fire places, candles, heat vents, or lights. Add water to the tree stand daily to keep it fresh for as long as possible, and don’t let the placement of the tree obstruct normal pathways to any exits.

For holiday lights, make sure that any you use have a label indicating that they were tested by an independent laboratory, and pay attention to whether the lights are intended for indoor or outdoor use. Any string of lights with worn/broken cords or loose bulb connections should be replaced. Pay attention to manufacturer’s instructions on how many strands of lights can be connected together, and always turn off lights before leaving or going to bed.

Never, ever use candles to decorate a Christmas tree.

After Christmas, dispose of your tree promptly. Old and dried out trees are especially dangerous and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against a house. Taking down outdoor electrical lights after the holidays can also help prevent hazards, and will prolong the life of the lights.

And of course, make regular checks of your smoke detectors and fire alarm systems at home and in the office. To speak with one of our experts about installing smoke detectors or commercial fire alarm systems, contact us at saealarm.com.