Shortly before 1 a.m. last Christmas Eve an electrical fire ignited a decorated Christmas tree in a suburban Dallas house, killing a 31-year-old woman and her four young daughters.Officials later determined that the cause of the fire was a dangerous "hot-wired" extension cord, overloaded by Christmas lights and other appliances.

Fires, which killed at least 48 people in seven states last Christmas Eve alone, are only one of several common -- and preventable -- household hazards that occur during the holidays. The others include falls from unsteady ladders used to string lights or decorations, injuries from new toys, and accidental poisonings of young children who may think mistletoe or poinsettias are edible.

Experts say that the application of a little common sense, combined with some advance planning, can help holiday-proof a home, making it safer for elderly relatives arriving for Christmas or young children visiting their grandparents for Hanukah, which begins tonight at sundown.

"People tend to think that when they leave home, that's when the real risk of injury occurs," says Jeffrey Sacks, a physician and injury expert with the Centers for Disease Control. "In fact, each year more than a third of all injuries and one fifth of injury deaths occur in the home."

Despite widespread publicity about the dangers of holiday drinking and driving, too much alcohol may also increase the chances of household injury. "During the holidays, adults may be partying and not paying enough attention to children. Drinking dulls the reflexes and judgement and may mean an additional risk of choking, falls and fires from cigarettes," notes Sacks.

Below are some tips from safety experts:

Fire. The National Safety Council estimates that 3,300 Americans die in home fires each year. About 40 percent occur between December and February, according to Susan P. Baker, co-director of the Injury Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health. Children under 4 and the elderly are at greatest risk of fire deaths, as are residents of low-income housing, who may use kerosene or electric heaters to keep warm.

To help prevent holiday fires, take special precautions in stringing lights. Don't overload circuits, check to make sure the lights have an Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) label, and examine and discard cords that are damaged. Don't overload extension cords.

Choose a fresh tree, water it regularly and keep it away from all exits and sources of heat, such as a fireplace. Turn off decorative lights before going to bed or leaving the house. Be careful with candles, whether lighting a menorah for Hanukah or decorating a holiday table. Make sure a lit candle is in a sturdy container, away from flammable items as well as windows or exits. Never leave candles unattended. Supervise children near lit candles.

Have the fireplace and chimney, as well as the primary heating system, inspected regularly. Use a fire screen, never leave a fire unattended and don't burn wrapping paper or discarded trees in the fireplace. They burn too rapidly and can quickly spiral out of control. Use space heaters with great caution, placing them at least three feet from combustible materials, such as blankets.

If cigarettes are smoked, particularly at a holiday party, provide enough ashtrays for extinguishing them and cool before emptying. Many house fires occur when a cigarette falls into a sofa or bed and smolders for hours undetected after the residents are asleep.

Be sure smoke detectors are installed -- and working -- on every level of your home. Check them according to instructions at least once every month and change batteries at least once a year. Never borrow batteries from a smoke detector to use in another appliance or toy.

Practice a fire escape plan.

Falls. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries in the home, claiming 6,600 lives annually. People over 75 are at greatest risk.

Amateurs and ladders can be a bad combination, so check a ladder for sturdiness and proper height when placing decorations on a tree top or roof.

Make sure extension cords don't obstruct walkways. Put toys away to avoid tripping or falls, particularly by the elderly who may have impaired vision.

If an elderly relative is your guest, be sure he or she knows the way around the house, particularly at night. Install nightlights at strategic locations, such as in the bathroom. In the event of ice or snow, shovel paths and make sure they are properly lit.

Toys. About 148,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries last year, according to estimates by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The most deadly items were balloons, marbles and small toy parts.

At a recent CPSC news conference on holiday toy safety, chairman Jacqueline Jones-Smith urged relatives and care givers to "think big in buying toys for children under three, examine toys carefully for small parts, {and} if there are older children in the home, see that their toys are kept from younger children."

Parents can purchase a test cylinder at many toy stores to determine whether toy parts are small enough to fit into a child's mouth or throat. But, added Jones-Smith, it's still crucial to "supervise your child's play and expect the unexpected."

Inspect old toys for broken parts, check toy boxes for safety and teach older children to put away their toys.

Older children also need instructions for safe use of toys and play equipment, says CPSC commissioner Carol G. Dawson. Children over 3 who put small toys in their mouths can still choke. Electrically operated toys, especially those with heating elements, should not be given to children younger than 8. Protective helmets should be provided for children riding bicycles, scooters or skateboards to protect against head injuries.

Projectile toys, such as arrows, darts or launch toys, can injure eyes or other body parts. If you buy them, get arrows or darts with tips of cork or soft rubber that are attached securely. Instruct children never to point these objects at people or at pets.

Be careful with gift wrapping as well, particularly long cords or ribbons that could choke or suffocate a young child.

Poisoning. Keep mistletoe, holly berries and all holiday plants away from children. They could cause poisoning or severe stomach upset, according to the National Safety Council.

Read labels on decorative materials in jars, cans or spray cans for proper use. Wear gloves or safety goggles when using items like spun glass "angel hair" or paints that could irritate eyes or skin. Artificial snow sprays can irritate the lungs if inhaled.

Entertaining. Alcohol is a primary concern, particularly for those who drive home after a party or family dinner.

Try to discourage too much drinking. Ask beverage servers or bartenders to keep an eye on who they serve, make sure plenty of food is available at a cocktail party and make non-alcoholic alternatives, such as juices, sodas and bottled waters, available. Discuss designated drivers ahead of time and be ready to call a cab, arrange a ride or prepare a guest bed for an inebriated friend or relative. Close the bar an hour or so before a party ends and serve soft drinks, coffee or tea.