Holidays are a time for families and friends to get together. But that also means a greater risk for fire.

Following a few simple tips will ensure a happy and fire-safe holiday season.

-- Consider an artificial tree. If a live tree is your desire, when choosing one, look for one that is fresh and has green needles that don't fall out. Brownish needles mean the tree is dried out and more prone to catch fire. Water your tree daily to prevent it from drying out. Always keep the tree away from floor heaters, fire places or other heat sources.

-- Check the manufacturer's labels to ensure you use only lights and decorations that are flame-retardant. Look for a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories, Intertek or the Canadian Standards Association, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

-- Examine light strings each year; discard worn ones.

-- When connecting light strings, never connect more than 3 strands together. Some lights are only for indoor use. Use only outdoor lights outside your home. Fasten the bulbs securely and point the sockets down to avoid moisture build up. Never use indoor extension cords outside, and always keep outdoor electrical connectors above ground and out of puddles and snow. Be sure to turn off the lights when you go to bed or leave your home.

-- When decorating indoor trees, avoid overloading wall outlets and extension cords, and never run cords under rugs or carpets. Unplug light strings before replacing bulbs. Review packaging to verify proper wattage and voltage. Use miniature lights which have cool-burning bulbs. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. Use colored spot lights. And never use candles, even on artificial trees. A YouTube video published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology illustrates what can happen in 30 seconds if you fail to properly water your tree. It can be viewed at

-- The use of candles increases during the holidays, presenting an even greater fire risk. Place candles a safe distance from combustibles in sturdy containers and on non-combustible surfaces. When you leave the room, especially at bed time, extinguish the candles. If you have pets or children, an unattended lit candle could easily be knocked over, causing a fire.

-- Be careful with holiday decorations. Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant. Ensure tinsel or artificial icicles are of non-leaded material. Leaded materials may be hazardous if eaten by children or pets.

-- Avoid decorations that tend to break easily or have sharp edges. Keep tree trimmings that are small or have removable parts out of the reach of small children.

-- Keep decorations away from windows and doors, out of the path of egress in case you must evacuate your home in a hurry.

-- As soon as you open presents, dispose of the gift wrapping immediately. Also, do not burn wrappings in the fireplace. They may ignite suddenly and cause a flash fire.

-- Be cautious when decorating with holiday plants. Holly and mistletoe can be fatal to a small child, even a small dose can cause serious medical problems. Poinsettia can cause a skin rash and an upset stomach. These holiday plants are also toxic to pets. Call 911 if your children ingest any of these holiday plants and contact your veterinarian for emergency pet care.

(Editor's note: Campbell is a fire inspector with the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department.)