State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said, "The holidays should be a joyous time. A few simple steps will keep your family and guests safe this holiday season." He added, "The most important thing is to make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working. The next step is to make sure the entire family and all your guests know the home escape plan and where the outside meeting place is."

Cooking Leading Cause of Holiday Fires

Coan said, "At holiday time we do a lot of cooking, but it is important to remember two key things: Stand by Your Pan to prevent cooking fires and to Put a Lid on It if one does occur." Leaving cooking unattended, even for a minute, is the leading cause of fires. He added "Cooking is the leading cause of home fires throughout the year, and caused two-thirds of all the residential fires last holiday season."

On January 6, 2012, at 9:27 p.m., the Brockton Fire Department was called to a cooking fire in a three-unit apartment building. Cooking oil in a stovetop pan ignited spreading to a nearby wall. One person was injured and the total estimated dollar loss was $230,000.

Cooking Safety Tips

* Stand by your pan. Don't leave boiling, frying or broiling food unattended.

* Put a lid on a grease fire to smother it, and then turn off the heat.

* Never move a burning pan. You can be badly burned or spread the fire.

* Never throw water or use a fire extinguisher on a grease fire. Water will only spread the fire and the force of the extinguisher can splash flaming grease out of the pan.

* Wear short or tight-fitting sleeves when cooking. Loose fitting clothing can easily catch fire.

Christmas Tree Safety Tips

* Selecting a Tree: Buy a cut tree as fresh as possible. Tap the butt on the ground and grab a branch near the top and pull your hand along it slowly. Needles should not fall off. If you bend a needle and it breaks before bending in half, it's too dry! If you use an artificial tree, select one with a flame retardent label.

* Caring for the Tree: Make a fresh cut an inch or two off the bottom before placing it in the stand. This will help with absorption. Water a live tree every day.

* Placing the Tree: Place your tree in a non-tip style with wide feet, using extra wires if needed to keep it steady. Keep doorways and exits clear. Place your tree and decorations away from heaters, fireplaces, candles, and other sources of heat.

* Decorating the Tree: Purchase electric holiday lights that are listed by an approved testing agency and follow the manufacturer's directions. Consider switching to new LED lights that are cooler and use less electricity. Make sure the bulbs themselves are not touching the tree, curtains, wrapped gifts, and tree skirts. Never use lighted candles as decorations. Turn off the lights when leaving the house or going to bed for the night. If you use an artificial tree, do not use electric lights on metal trees.

On December 24, 2011, at 5:14 p.m., the Foxborough Fire Department was called to a Christmas tree fire in a single-family home. Electrical arcing ignited the tree. No one was injured at this fire. Smoke detectors were present but failed to operate because of dead batteries. The home was not sprinklered. Damages were estimated at $20,000.

* Disposing of the Tree: Remove your tree soon after the holidays and take advantage of your community's pick-up day is available.

On Jan. 9, 2012, at 9:11 a.m., the Lunenburg Fire Department was called to a smoking fire in a four-unit condominium. The smoking materials ignited the living room sofa. The dried out Christmas tree was located next to the couch. A single sprinkler head activated and controlled the fire. No one was injured at this fire. Detectors were present and operated but no one was home at the time of the fire. Damages from this fire were estimated at $27,000.

The U. S. Fire Administration website has a stunning video from the National Institute of Standards and Training (NIST) of how a dry Christmas tree can act like a blowtorch in your living room (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/holiday-seasonal/holiday.shtm) and the National Fire Protection Association has side-by-side video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNjO3wZDVlA ) showing a dry Christmas tree on fire and a well-watered Christmas tree on fire. The fire in a well-watered tree takes much longer to progress.

Candle Safety

"Since candles are so often used in our holiday rituals, we see a spike in candle fires at this time of year. Monday, December 10, 2012 was Candle Safety Awareness Day," Coan said. "I urge the community to practice safe candle use to keep your families safe," he added.

"December 24 and 25 are the days on which the most candle fires occur. Fires start easily and spread quickly when candles burn too close to holiday decorations or are left burning unattended. Please burn candles inside of a one-foot Circle of Safety, free of anything that can burn. Also remember to keep candles out of reach of children and pets," Marshal Coan warned.

On Dec. 19, 2011, at 10:25 p.m., the Westhampton Fire Department was called to a fire in a single-family home. A candle in the living room ignited the wall and caused $100,000 in damages.

On Dec. 22, 2011, at 7:09 p.m., the Boston Fire Department was called to a fire in an apartment building that started when a candle on a table ignited a wall decoration. No one was injured at this fire. Detectors were present and alerted the occupants of the building. There were no sprinklers in the building. Damages were estimated to be $70,000.

On Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2011, at 10:55 p.m., the Hanover Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a single-family home. A candle ignited the rubbish in a first floor bathroom. No one was injured at this fire. Detectors were present and they alerted the building's occupants; and the building was not sprinklered. Damages from this fire were estimated to be $30,000.

On Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2011, at 11:07 p.m., the Lexington Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a church. The candle ignited a plastic decoration. No one was injured at this fire. Detectors were present and operated but there were no occupants at the time of the fire. The building did not have sprinklers. Damages from this fire were confined to the decoration that cost $100.

On Dec. 31, 2011, at 8:45 p.m., the New Bedford Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a three-unit apartment building. A discarded candle ignited a piece of furniture in a first floor bedroom. No one was injured at this fire. Detectors were present and alerted the residents. The building was not sprinklered. The total estimated dollar loss was $25,000.

On Jan. 6, 2012, at 6:22 p.m., the East Longmeadow Fire Department was called to a candle fire in a two-family home. A candle in the finished basement ignited the carpeting. No one was injured at this fire. It was undetermined if detectors were present. The home was not sprinklered. Damages from this fire were estimated to be $30,000.

Candle Safety Tips

* Burn candles within a one-foot Circle of Safety, free of anything that can burn.

* Stay in the same room with burning candles; never leave candles unattended.

* Burn candles on a non-combustible saucer or candleholder.

* Be sure to extinguish candles before falling asleep, going out, or leaving the room.

* Teach everyone in the family the rules of safe candle use.

* Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.

Outdoor Decorations

* Be sure to use only lights rated for outdoor use.

* Securely anchor outdoor lights and decorations against the wind and storms with insulated holders or hooks.

* Do not drive nails, staples or tacks through wiring insulation; this can cause a fire.

* All outdoor electrical decorations should be plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). You can buy portable units for outdoor use, or you can have them permanently installed by an electrician.

* Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and extend their life. Consider replacing old outdoor lights with newer LED lights that are 'greener' and cooler."

For more information on fire safety, contact your local fire department or the Office of the State Fire Marshal at 1-877-9 NO FIRE or on-line at www.state.ma.us/dfs and look for Fire Safety Topics.