Fires are more common during the holidays. Here's how to prevent them.

The jolliest time of the year — marked by the smell of fresh-baked desserts, dazzling Christmas lights and fire-warmed hearths — can turn heartbreaking and deadly in an instant when a home goes up in flames.

Without proper caution, a home or apartment is more likely to catch fire between the months of November and March when there's more family and distractions around, more cooking occurring, heaters running and highly flammable holiday decorations decking the halls.

In a study released by the National Fire Protection Association, deaths are also more likely to occur during these months.

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In the kitchen

What's the leading cause of home fires? Cooking.

According to the NFPA, cooking accounted for 49% of home fires, was the leading cause of injuries and was the second contributing factor of fire-related deaths.

Never leave cooking food unattended, and remain cautious around the stove, where most cooking fires occur, the NFPA said.

While in the kitchen:

  • Cook while you can be attentive to it

  • Remain in the kitchen while frying, boiling, grilling or broiling. Check simmering, baking or roasting foods regularly

  • Keep heating elements clear of flammable kitchen utensils and towels

In the event of a fire, the NFPA suggests smothering stovetop fires with a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. For an oven fire, keep the door closed and turn off the heat. If there's any doubt a fire can easily be smothered, get out and call 911.

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Decking the halls

Fresh Christmas trees can set the tone for the holiday season, but they can also be a nightmare in the event of a fire.

About a third of tree fires are caused by electrical problems and one in five home fires that started with a Christmas tree were too close to a heat source.

When setting up a live tree:

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles

  • Add water daily

  • Keep the tree at least three feet from fireplaces, radiators, candles or other heat sources

  • Replace light strands that have frayed wires

  • Turn off lights when leaving the home or going to bed

"Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry," the NFPA said. "Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home."

When hanging the garland, or any other festive décor, keep a wide berth around lit candles, which contribute to a third of home decorations fires.

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Keeping warm

As the temperatures drop, keeping a home warm can become more difficult. Space heaters can provide quick heat, but they can be extremely dangerous if used improperly.

According to the NFPA, two in five heater-related deaths are attributed to portable space heaters.

When using a space heater:

  • Keep a 3-foot radius around the heater clear of flammable items

  • Choose a heater that has an auto shut-off if it tips over, and a thermostat and overheat protection

  • Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet; never use an extension chord

  • Turn off heaters when leaving the room or house

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Kirsten Fiscus at 334-318-1798 or Follow her on Twitter @KDFiscus

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Why your home is more likely to catch fire during the holidays