Jo Becker is an Oregon-based pet mom and surrogate livestock handler for neighbors in the Oregon City area

I love this time of year! Growing up, my grandma's house sat on a main thoroughfare and was well known for its lights; candy-cane-lined driveway, and full sized trees in large windows at both ends of the house. Inside were stockings, manger scenes, iceskating figurines, candy dishes filled with petit fours and ribbon candy and a small mountain of boxes under both trees.

Jo BeckerBut this time of year can be dangerous too. I'll never forget one Christmas we had all gathered around the tree in the living room after dinner to open gifts. The family dog kicked it off, tearing into her own stocking. An hour or two later someone went to the kitchen to bring out dessert. It was only then we discovered a snowman-shaped candle had been left burning at the other end of the house and had caught other decorations on fire. The fire was small and extinguished quickly, but scenarios like this play out every year in homes across America. Many families aren't so lucky.

Winter home fires claim 905 human lives each year, and property losses add up to over $2 million, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They can be particularly perilous for those in plexes and apartment buildings where shared infrastructure can compromised the homes of dozens or hundreds of people very, very quickly. And, as a pet mom passionate about emergency preparedness for the whole family, let's not forget that our four-legged and feathered friends are at risk as well.

According to the National Fire Protection Association's 2014 data, a home fire is reported every 86 seconds throughout the year. From Halloween to New Year's that figure goes up considerably.

It's obvious that the holiday season coincides with cold weather and, therefore, an elevated risk of fires as we heat our homes. That coupled with increased gatherings centered on culinary feasts (think turkey-fryer fires and pots left unattended in the kitchen), merry-making and libation, trees and garlands that can dry out before you know it, and candles create a unique profile of residential winter fires — both in terms of frequency and cause.

The National Fire Incident Reporting System found that cooking fires occurred more often on Thanksgiving than any other day and was, in fact, the leading cause of fires on that holiday (72 percent).

Candles are the cause of 40 percent of decoration fires, according to FEMA. Our Canadian neighbors found a 140 percent spike in candle fires during the holidays, with most involving human error. Most deaths and injuries result from the failure to extinguish candles before going to bed.

One of every three Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems in the home. While uncommon, when they do occur, they are likely to be serious, causing one death in every 31 reported tree fires compared to an average of one in 144 total home fires.

A few precautions can help assure your holidays are bright and cheerful, and safe for everyone!

Simple safety steps to protect you, your family and your pets:

Check wiring; don't overload circuits

Check smoke detectors; never remove the batteries

Do not leave food or candles unattended - period!

Keep candles at least 12 inches inches away from flammables; better yet, invest in battery-operated candles

Look for decorations that are flame resistant or retardant

Place trees and other décor at least 3 feet from fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, candles and heat vents

Keep trees watered; remove when needles are dry

Know two ways out of every room and practice your evacuation plan with all members of your household (including pets and holiday guests).

If a fire does occur:

Know that heat and smoke are much more dangerous than the flames; you'll likely have only a few seconds to escape

Don't try to extinguish a fire larger than the size of a small waste can; use the time to get low and get out!

Realize that your vision may be completely impaired — practice evacuating on your hands and knees with your eyes shut

If you have family members (including pets or guests) who would need assistance evacuating, consider what your game plan may be and include that in your fire drills.

Jo Becker is an Oregon-based pet mom and surrogate livestock handler for neighbors

in the Oregon City area. She's also a speaker and writer on a number of topics, and

more information can be found at

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