The number of Phoenix house fires typically spikes over the holiday season, but the Phoenix Fire Department has a number of tips to help keep your home safe.

Residents always should keep an eye on the stove or oven while cooking, said Capt. Tony Mure, a fire department spokesman.

"The leading cause of house fires is attributed to cooking," Mure said.

Fire officials also suggest having your chimney cleaned before using the fireplace, if it hasn't been cleaned in a while. Flammable residue can build up inside, he said.

"You can get a fire in the chimney that can spread into the attic," Mure explained. "You may not know for the first 10 or 15 minutes until a neighbor knocks on your door and tells you your house is on fire."

Some Christmas decorations can be fire-prone, as well, if not maintained properly, he added. For instance, residents should not overload electrical circuits with too many appliances or holiday lights, or use lighting inappropriately, such as placing outdoor lights inside the home. And avoid overloading the Christmas tree with lights, he noted.

"Some of the older ones are particularly hotter than the newer ones," Mure said.

Christmas trees should be well-watered so that they don't dry out, and should be kept away from heat sources, he said. A dried out Christmas tree can be consumed by fire in less than 30 seconds, according to the fire department.

"The day after Christmas, get that tree out of the house," Mure said. "That tree is like a Roman candle or a torch. It will burn very fast, and your house will go up."

Additional safety recommendations:

• Buyers should choose a tree that looks green and fresh. Take a long needle and bend it between your thumb and forefinger. If it snaps, the tree is too dry. When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is dry.

• When you bring a tree home, cut about an inch off the end of the trunk. This will remove the dried end and allow the tree to absorb water. Make checkerboard cuts into the base at different angles to make a greater surface for water absorption.

• Always turn off lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave your home.

• Keep children away from light sets and electrical decorations. All lights present the problem of shock for curious kids. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree.

• Keep all bulbs turned away from gifts and paper ornaments. Lights in windows can cause curtains and drapes to ignite.

• Check each set of lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. Use no more than three sets of lights per single extension.

• Never use lighted candles on or near a tree and keep them away from other decorations and wrapping paper. Place candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over.

• Dispose of gift wrappings soon after opening presents. A room full of paper lying around on the floor is just one more holiday hazard. Do not burn wrappings in the fireplace. They may ignite suddenly and cause a flash fire.

• Make sure that your fire alarms are working. More than 90 percent of fire deaths occur in residential dwellings between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when occupants are asleep.

• Holly and mistletoe can be fatal to a small child. Poinsettia leaves are not fatal if swallowed, but can cause a skin rash and an upset stomach. Call 911 if your children ingest any of these holiday plants.

• Purchase tinsel or artificial icicles of a non-leaded material. Leaded materials may be hazardous if eaten by children or pets.

• Avoid any decorations that tend to break easily or have sharp edges. Small pieces may be swallowed by children.

• Place space heaters at least 3 feet away from objects such as bedding, furniture, draperies and other combustibles. Never use a space heater overnight in the room where you are sleeping. It should never be left unattended.

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