DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – With Christmas and New Year’s just days away, your home may be filling with the smell of fresh baked cookies and other delicious holiday staples, but it’s important to remember to be attentive while in the kitchen for a number of reasons. One of those is the risk of fires.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.”

So while it may be tempting to tend to guests, kids and other duties while your food items are cooking, experts say it’s not a good idea.

“There’s several things you can do to protect yourself and your home,” said Dan Suffoletto, public information manager for Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County. “One thing is if you’re cooking something for an extended period of time, you don’t want to leave that cooking unattended. So don’t start something, let it keep cooking, then leave the house or run out and do something. You always want to make sure you’re there.”

While cooking makes a up a portion of Christmas-related fires, flames that result from decorations are also very common, with damages from tree fires causing about $10 million in direct property damage each year between 2015 and 2019.

“[Real trees] have a potential to catch on fire a little bit easier than artificial if you don’t water them,” said Doug Hatcher, fire marshal for Moraine Fire Division. “You have to keep them watered, have to keep them moist. Keep the needles moist and soft. When they dry out, that’s when they become a big hazard,” he said.

Artificial trees, however, also have the ability to catch on fire, which is often caused by frayed, cracked or shorted lighting. Decorative exterior lights are also prone to cause fires if the wiring is faulty or exposed.

“Make sure that you try to protect any plugs from weather,” said Hatcher. “There’s a lot of different ways to do that. But the big thing is…because it’s electricity, we want to keep it dry, and of course from becoming cracked or frayed,” said Hatcher.

The NFPA said candle fires also occur frequently around the holidays, with a peak on Christmas Day, and Christmas Eve fires following at a close second. But a holiday blaze, said Suffoletto, is not the only thing that can dampen the holiday spirit.

“There are several things people should keep in mind when they’re preparing food for the holiday season – first and foremost is cleanliness – and it starts with washing your hands thoroughly,” he said. “You want to make sure all your surfaces that you’re preparing food [on] have been cleaned and sanitized before you start.”

Contrary to popular belief, he said part of keeping germs and bacteria at bay is foregoing washing meat before it is cooked.

“Washing meat is really not recommended because when you’re washing, you can spread germs throughout the kitchen during that process,” said Suffoletto. “If you cook the meat thoroughly based upon the recommendations of the food product, that should take care of any contaminants that are in the food. That’s one of the reasons why you want to make sure that you cook it properly and mind the temperature.”

Suffoletto also said people should be mindful of how long food is left out in the open at gatherings, adding that leaving food unrefrigerated for more than two hours can allow bacteria to grow or cause food to go bad faster than in it would in a temperature controlled setting.

Last but not least, with the pandemic ongoing families and friends should not forget to take precautions to keep themselves and loved ones from getting sick from COVID-19.

“Where we can have the spread of germs during the cooking process is if people are gathering together. So people tend to party and gather in the kitchen – you may have a large number of people in the kitchen and that is a place where not just COVID could spread, but if someone has a cold or the flu, that could also spread in close quarters. So the first recommendation is if you’re sick at all, do not go to, or host a party. That will cut down the risk of spreading whatever the germ may be.”