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I remember as a child going with my father to cut a Christmas tree on our family farm.


The tree of choice was the Eastern Red Cedar. As a matter of fact, it was our only choice. We would find a tree with the right shape but wrong height; walk another mile, find a tree with the right height but wrong shape.


Cutting a Christmas tree as a child was a lesson in patience and compromise. We never found a perfect tree, but once decorated, it was always beautiful.


Years have passed, and I find myself on the backside of 50 trying to provide the same positive experiences for my own children, and yes, maybe wanting to relive a little of my childhood.


I still only use a cut Christmas tree. Times have changed, but the joys of Christmas will always be the same if we truly want them to be.


Each year fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of more than 400 people, injure 1,650 more, and cause more than $990 million in damage.


According to the United States Fire Administration, there are simple life-saving steps you can take to ensure a safe and happy holiday. By following the outlined precautionary tips from the USFA, individuals can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty.


Preventing Christmas tree fires:


• Selecting a tree for the holiday: Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.


• Caring for your tree: Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.


• Disposing of your tree: Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or woodburning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.


Holiday lights:


• Maintain your holiday lights: Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.


• Do not overload electrical outlets: Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires — they should not be warm to the touch.


Do not leave holiday lights on unattended


Holiday decorations:


• Use only nonflammable decorations: All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents.


• Never put wrapping paper in a fireplace: It can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers and may result in a chimney fire.


• Artificial Christmas trees: If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.


Candle care:


• Avoid using lit candles: If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.


• Never put lit candles on a tree: Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame.


Finally, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call for help. And practice your home escape plan.


Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.