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Avoiding risks real Christmas trees pose during holidays

Sunday - 12/9/2012, 10:05am  ET

WASHINGTON - As the holiday season begins, excited people are already putting up decorations to celebrate and contribute to the festive atmosphere.

But a real Christmas tree, while wonderful, can also pose a safety threat.

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department has put out a list of fire safety tips to keep holidays bright and families safe.

The tree base should be immersed in water to prevent the tree from drying out. Decorations should be flame-retardant and smoking next to the tree should be avoided.

Lights should be Underwriters Laboratories (U.L.)-approved. Strands should be inspected for frayed or cracked wiring, broken plugs and defective sockets before they are placed on the tree. They should also be unplugged when the house is empty.

The National Fire Prevention Association says Christmas tree fires are more deadly than other home fires. NFPA reports show that from 2005 to 2009, 1 out of every 18 Christmas tree fires resulted in a death. In 2010, close to 500 people died in home fires.

Curtis Brodie, battalion chief at Prince William County Fire and Rescue, says trees should be located away from any type of heat source, like a fireplace, space heater or candles.

Brodie also recommends clearing out the fireplace from time to time. When a fire is put out, embers should be put in a metal bucket and people should wet them down. The bucket should be placed away from the house.

Once the holidays are over, trees should be removed from the home as soon as possible to prevent dried-out needles, which can catch fire surprisingly well.

WTOP's Jamie Forzato and Thomas Warren contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)