Generally the holidays are happy times. But a moment's carelessness, an open flame, an intrusion by thieves, can steal that happiness away.

A list of tips compiled and released by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, the National Fire Protection Association and California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma can deflect tragedies that turn holidays to heartache.

While you shop for those ideal gifts, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office has tips to help you make sure you aren't shopping for thieves too. Those include:

• Don't leave personal navigation items in plain view. Cell phones, docking ports or chargers, or other navigation devices should be tucked into your glove box.

• Think ahead. Many thieves watch shoppers put parcels in their cars and then walk away, so place items in the car's trunk before driving away.

• Lock your car!

To maintain safety at home, the National Fire Protection Association shares tips to guard against something very common at this time of year: fires started by festive lighting, windowsill candles and even Christmas trees.

Fires started from those sources can be more deadly than typical home fires. According to NFPA data, in 2005-2009, holiday and decorative lighting were involved in an estimated average of 150 home fires during that time, causing an average of eight civilian deaths, 14 injuries and $8.5 million in property damage.

"Though decorations such as candles or Christmas trees certainly spread holiday cheer, it is important to follow basic safety steps so celebrations go off without a hitch," said Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of communications.

Tips include:

• Choose flame resistant or retardant decorations.

• Keep lit candles away from flammable decorations.

• Use lights that have the label of an independent testing lab.

• Check packaging to determine whether lights are only for indoor use.

• Replace strings of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini light sets or a maximum 50 screw-in bulbs.

• Use clips, not nails, to hang lights, so cords don't get damaged.

• Keep decorations away from windows or doors.

For Christmas tree safety, the NFPA warns:

• Keep your tree well watered so it doesn't dry out.

• Never use lit candles on a tree.

• Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home.

• When the tree is finally dry, get rid of it, ideally through a community recycling program.

• Store electrical outdoor lights after the holidays to help them last longer.

In addition, Ma offered the following fire safety tips for the holidays in a presentation she gave Dec. 6 at the Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. A Christmas tree was set on fire during her talk to illustrate the dangers of not taking precautions.

• Do not overload extension cords.

• Turn off holiday lighting before going to bed.

• Keep areas around open flames free of combustible materials.

• Never leave candles unattended.

• Keep charged fire extinguishers in centralized locations.

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