FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 15, 2011) -- Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services wants everyone to look for and eliminate any potential dangers from Christmas trees, decorations and holiday lights that could lead to fires and injuries.

During a five-year time period ending in 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 240 home structure fires that started with Christmas trees each year. These fires caused an average of 13 deaths, 27 injuries and $16.7 million in direct property damage annually. An estimated 12,860 home structure fires were started by candles during the same period. These fires resulted in an estimated 136 civilian deaths, 1,041 civilian injuries and an estimated direct property loss of $471 million.

Christmas tree fires are not common, but when they occur, they are likely to be serious. On average, one of every 15 reported fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in death. Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services is providing the following safety tips to ensure a safe and happy holiday season.

Christmas Trees

• When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "fire resistant." Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.

• When purchasing a cut live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green when the needles are hard to pull from branches. When bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The cut trunk of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many green needles. When setting up a live tree at home, cut at least an inch off the tree bottom so it can absorb water, place the tree in a stand that can be filled with water and place the tree a minimum of three feet away from fireplaces and radiators. Heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, so check twice a day to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.

Decorations

• Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders and place candles where they will not be knocked down. Candles were determined to be the heat source in 8 percent of the home Christmas tree fires annually in the 2003-2006 time period.

• Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or non leaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children or pets.

• In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a small child to eat them.

Lights

• Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, which indicates conformance with fire safety standards.

• Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out or replace damaged sets.

• Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.

• Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

• Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm brackets to protect the light strands.

Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services actively promotes fire safety to all who work and live on Fort Lee, especially during the holiday season. For questions or assistance, please contact the Fire Prevention Office at (804) 734-6597.