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When decking the halls, keep fire safety in mind

(Dec. 13, 2011) — Some of the things that make the holidays special - lights twinkling on a Christmas tree, brightly burning candles – are also potential fire hazards. To ensure your holiday season is a safe one, take a minute to review the following fire safety tips.

Candles. Candles are a major cause of household fires during the holidays. They should be kept away from your tree and any flammable decorations. They should also be extinguished before leaving a room.

Heating sources. Home heating equipment, such as wood stoves, space heaters and fireplaces, cause nearly one-third of all home fires according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

When starting a fire in your wood stove or fireplace, use hardwood logs cut the season before. Do not toss wrapping paper or branches from your Christmas tree into the flames because flash fires can result. Chimneys and wood stoves should be inspected annually for creosote and cleaned regularly. Stockings should not be hung from your fireplace mantle in the path of sparks and flames.

Decorative lights. Inspect your lights before they go up to make sure they're in good condition. Don't plug too many into the same electrical circuit or overload extension cords. You should use no more than three light sets per extension cord. Unplug all lights when you leave the house and before going to bed.

Christmas trees. Live trees smell heavenly but, if they dry out, they become giant sticks of kindling. Make sure your tree stand is filled with water, and any lights and candles nearby are used safely.

Home evacuation. Perhaps the best thing you can do this holiday season is to develop a home evacuation plan. Make sure everyone knows all of your home's exits and you have a designated outdoor meeting place to regroup. If a fire does start in your home, stay as low as possible while heading for an exit to reduce your chance of smoke inhalation. If you do catch on fire, stop, drop and roll.

Based in Madison, Wis., American Family Insurance offers auto insurance, homeowners insurance, life insurance, health insurance, business and farm/ranch insurance in 19 states. American Family Mutual Insurance Company is the nation's third-largest mutual property/casualty insurance company. Web: www.amfam.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/amfam; Twitter: www.twitter.com/amfam.