UTAH (ABC4) — Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are among the leading days for home fires in the United States every year, according to a study by the National Fire Protection Association. These home fires involving Christmas trees caused an annual average of $12 million in direct property damage between 2016 and 2020.

As a result, the NFPA is urging everyone to be extra cautious this holiday season about what they’re placing around and on their Christmas trees.

“December is a leading month for home fires, in large part because many of the activities we engage in during the holiday season reflect leading causes of home fires year-round,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “Plus, as colder temperatures impact much of the country, use of heating equipment increases significantly.”

Electrical distribution or lighting equipment, including decorative lights, is the main cause of Christmas tree fires. An estimated average of 790 home fires began each year when decorations on Christmas trees caught fire, the NFPA said.

One of the few things families can do to minimize the risk of decorations catching on fire is to make sure all the holiday decorations and ornaments are flame resistant. Smoke alarms should also be tested regularly to make sure they are working. Another important thing is to make sure the Christmas tree or any other large décor is not blocking exits, including windows, in the house.

Two of every five fires involving decorations started because they were placed too close to a heat source. In fact, approximately 7,400 home fires between 2015 and 2019 were caused by candles, leading to about 90 civilian deaths, 670 injuries and $291 million in property damage each year.

Unsurprisingly, the NFPA said candle fires peaked in December and January around the time of Christmas and New Year’s. As a preventive measure, the nonprofit urges people to turn off their decorative lights and blow out the candles before going to bed.

“By knowing where potential fire hazards exist and taking some basic safety precautions to prevent them, people can enjoy a festive, fire-free holiday season,” Carli said.

The overall trend of Christmas tree fires is going down, with 270 cases in 2002 and 180 cases in 2020. Even so, there are a few preventive measures families could take to avoid Christmas tree fires.

When picking out a tree, one way to tell if a tree is fresh and not completely dry is to take a leaf off a tree and break it, according to Darren McAvoy, an assistant professor of forestry at Utah State University. If it crackles and breaks, that’s not the tree to go for because it is old and dry and also prone to catch on fire.

When placing the Christmas tree, the NFPA suggests keeping it at least three feet away from any heat source and watering it daily to make sure the tree stays moist. When putting lights around the Christmas trees, the NFPA recommends checking if they are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Lights with worn or broken cords should be replaced immediately.