TAKING A CLOSER LOOK: Santa Monica fire fighters gather outside of the Gate of India restaurant on Monday afternoon inspecting the damage caused by an early morning fire. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

Last winter, firefighters rushed to a building in the 800 block of Wilshire Boulevard on reports of a fire. Flames had spread from a second-story apartment to an exterior patio. Smoke was emanating from the residence. One person suffered second-degree burns.

Investigators later determined that the blaze, which was extinguished with the help of four engines and a truck unit, was probably caused in part by a dry Christmas tree and a possible short in a string of decorative lights.

It’s why the Santa Monica Fire Department is urging residents to take fire safety precautions in and around their homes this holiday season.

“We don’t want that again,” said Suzanne Post, the department’s fire safety coordinator.

Christmas trees were the first items to catch fire in an estimated average of 210 reported home fires per year from 2009 to 2013, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Those blazes caused an annual average of seven deaths, 19 injuries and $17.5 million in property damage.

Fire officials said locals should make sure their Christmas trees are fresh, watered and placed away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators or air vents. Trees should not block any exits.

Post also outlined steps homeowners and businesses should take to keep lights and interior decorations from causing fires.

Officials said it’s imperative not to overload electrical outlets with lights. Residents are asked to make sure their holiday light strands are in working order and that the lights are labeled as safety-certified. Flame candles should never be used as tree ornaments. People should check for broken sockets or frayed wires and they should not leave holiday lights on around the clock, Post said.

Post encouraged wider use of electric or battery-powered candles, whether for Hanukkah menorahs or other purposes during the holidays. She said traditional candles are common causes of house fires across the country.

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of more than 10,000 home fires started by candles each year from 2007 to 2011, according to the National Fire Protection Association, causing an annual average of 115 deaths, 903 injuries and $418 million in damages.

“It’s the time of year where you usually have more people in your home and kids running around,” she said. “People are distracted. It’s important to keep candles away from decorations and other things that can burn. If you get the battery-operated ones, you don’t have to worry so much.”

When temperatures dip during the winter, however slightly in Southern California, residents often turn to fireplaces and other heating mechanisms. But there are several steps people should take before curling up with a blanket on the couch.

Chimneys and fireplaces should be checked annually by certified personnel. Clogged flues can cause fires and increase chances of carbon monoxide-related incidents. Smoke alarms should also be tested, Post said.

Officials also said residents should not leave ovens unattended when cooking.

jeff@www.smdp.com