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Have a merry — and safe — holiday season

It’s difficult to think of Christmas without the beauty of the lights, the decorated tree … and, of course, more lights.

Especially in the Upper Peninsula, when the darkness conveniently comes earlier in December to let those lights shine longer and that perfect Christmas tree usually can be found easily and close by in the North Woods.

A few precautions are in order, however, to keep that glowing holiday display from turning into something more dangerous.

The holidays, unfortunately, are a peak time for home fires, triggered by dry Christmas trees, worn lights, use of candles and space heaters, state Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, one-third of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems, while roughly 1 in 4 fires are sparked by having a heat source too close to the tree.

The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Sehlmeyer added.

“People often fall asleep or leave home with unattended candles left burning in many of these fires,” Sehlmeyer said. “Keep candles away from the tree, decorations, curtains and furniture that can catch fire. Always keep candles up high to prevent them from getting knocked over by children and pets. Battery-operated flameless candles are the safest option.”

And fighting or fleeing a fire is more difficult in December, with houses sealed up and the conditions outdoors less than ideal.

With all that in mind, the experts recommend for a safer Christmas:

•Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

•Before putting the tree in a stand, cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Water it daily.

•Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit and is at least 3 feet from any heat source, such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.

•Use lights that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory and indicate whether indoor or outdoor lights.

•Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturers’ instructions for number of light strands to connect.

•Never — big stress on never — use lit candles to decorate the tree.

•Don’t overload the electrical socket.

•Turn tree lights off when going to bed or leaving home.

•Discard the tree when it is dry, in an outside location. Ideally, find a local tree recycling program.

•Make sure home smoke detectors are in working order and a fire extinguisher is easily at hand. Test smoke alarms of elderly family members and neighbors when visiting them over the holidays.

People older than 60 are at the greatest risk to die in residential fires in Michigan, according to the Michigan Community Risk Reduction Task Force, based on fire reports submitted for 2017-2018.

Those in financial hardship who need smoke alarms should contact the Bureau of Fire Services at 517-241-8847.

For more safety tips, go to the Bureau of Fire Services website at www.michigan.gov/bfs.

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