A dry Christmas tree is serious fire hazard, said Mary Ellen Holly, fire prevention specialist for Central Lyon County Fire District.
The needles should be pliable and green, rather than brown or brittle, she said.
"They become very flammable and add a tremendous amount of fuel to a fire, making it more difficult for firefighters to get in and for people to get out," Holly said.
Holly, who once worked with the fire department in Eugene, Ore., knows all too well how holiday cheer and decorations can mask danger.
"We lost four children and a babysitter who were playing with a candle around a Christmas tree," said Holly, describing an accident in Oregon in the mid-1990s.
She recommended trees be taken down soon after Christmas before they become too dry.
"A lot of trees on the lots were cut in the first part of November," she said. "They're already four or five weeks dry. It's really important that people water them often."
When shopping for artificial trees, look for a "fire resistant" label. This doesn't mean the tree absolutely will not catch fire, but it does mean it can be quickly extinguished, Holly said.
She issued a list of other concerns for the holiday season, many of which were included on a government list of holiday safety tips released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Candles are a beautiful part of the season, but require extra vigilance, according to both holiday safety lists. Make sure they are held in nonflammable holders and positioned away from flammable objects like the Christmas tree or blinds or a light shade. Also, like moths, children are drawn to the fascinating glow of candlelight so be sure position candles safely out of their reach. Jar candles are safest, according to Holly.
"Sometimes people are having such a nice time during the holidays that they forget to extinguish candles," Holly said. "Always put out candles before leaving a room or going to bed. Always keep burning candles within sight." Statistically, the number of candle fires in the United States doubles during the month of December.
Smoke detectors are especially important this time of year with fireplaces burning, candles flickering on the table, and heaters turned up to ward off the winter chill. Check your detector batteries and replace any alarms that are not working properly.
Be fire-safety minded as you do all of your holiday decorating, public safety officials said. For instance, don't overload electrical outlets and don't block exit doors.
State Fire Marshal's Office: 687-4290
Consumer Product Safety Commission: http://www.cpsc.gov