Here's the most important rule: Keep anything that could catch fire at least three feet away from things that get hot. That buffer zone applies to the kitchen stove (no dish towels on the oven handle), the fireplace (newspapers and kindling can ignite from a stray spark), and even small appliances like curling irons and lamps, which can overheat adjacent towels or curtains. Space heaters are responsible for a significant number of home fire deaths, so make sure they're at least three feet from beds, clothing, and upholstered furniture -- and never use them while you're sleeping.
A particular danger around the holidays, candles cause more than 15,000 home fires each year. Always blow them out before you leave a room. "We think of candles as benign and beautiful, but there are so many ways they can start a fire," says Harden. "Pets and kids can knock them over, and even a breeze from a door opening could blow a curtain into the flame."
Be very careful in the kitchen, where most home fires start. When you're cooking, insist that your kids stay three feet away from the stove, or keep them out of the kitchen altogether. Never leave cooking food unattended on the stove or under the broiler. "If you're making something that requires your full attention, keep your kids busy with a project so you won't be interrupted," says Judy Comoletti, manager of the NFPA's public education division.