House fire prevention begins with understanding the most common causes of house fires and taking precautions to avoid these situations.

Most Common Causes

Below is a list of the most common causes for house fires. There are many ways in which fires can start in the home and while this list is not exhaustive, it does cover most cases. Following these prevention tips can greatly reduce the chances of a house fire.

Cooking Equipment

Electric stoves are generally safer than gas stoves because they do not produce open flames or run the risk of gas leaks. When using cooking, keep small children and pets out of the kitchen to avoid accidents. If you need to step away, ask someone to keep an eye on the food. Even though 50% of all house fires start in the kitchen, is not the only place with risky cooking equipment.

Barbeque (BBQ) grills are also cooking equipment with fire risks. When using grills make sure you are not near any flammable liquids, cloth materials and trees or shrubs. Keep your grills clean and avoid build up that could cause fire.

Deep fryers may be one of the most dangerous pieces of cooking equipment. According to the National Fire Protection Association: deep fryer fires cause an average of 5 deaths, 60 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage each year. Make sure the fryer is positioned far away from the house and any flammable materials. Keep children and pets clear at all times. Use oven mitts when handling the fryer or food. Probably the most important precautions are to avoid overfilling the oil and making sure the turkey is completely thawed before dropping it in. Another alternative is to switch to an infrared fryer and eliminate the need for oil completely.

Regardless of the cause, one of the most important things to remember is: Never put out a grease fire with water. Use a fire extinguisher or fire blanket. If the contents of your pan catch fire, baking soda is a good option to extinguish the flame.

Prevention Tips:

  • Keep children and pets out of the kitchen
  • Keep flammable materials and liquids away from heat sources
  • Keep your equipment clean
  • Keep fire suppression supplies nearby

Heating

It is estimated that more than 25,000 residential fires and more than 300 deaths are caused each year by space heaters. Portable room heaters result in approximately 6,000 Americans receiving emergency hospital care, annually, for burn injuries. Keep heaters away from anything that could easily catch fire such as furniture, curtains and laundry. Don’t stand too close to the heater and keep loose clothing tucked in. When selecting a space heater, choose one that has a automatic shutoff if it is knocked over.

Furnaces and fireplaces should also be used with caution. Built-in wall heaters should be serviced regularly and only use fuels recommended by the manufacturer. When using your fireplace, use a screen to block sparks from flying into the room. Let the ashes cool and then scoop them into a metal container. It is best to keep the ashes outside the home, away from other flammables; just make sure the embers are fully extinguished. Keep your chimneys clean, it gets real dirty in there. Soot and other contaminants build up and can increase carbon monoxide levels. Make sure it is cleaned regularly. If you have not used it recently, make sure it is free of animals and that the flume is open.

Prevention Tips:

  • Keep flammable materials away from the heat source
  • Follow manufacturer instructions
  • Fully extinguish fires and keep ashes contained
  • Clean your chimneys
  • Keep fire suppression supplies nearby

Smoking

While only 7% of house fires start in the bedroom they result in up to 50% of the fatalities caused by a house fire. Smoking in the bedroom is the cause of 40% of house fires that start in the bedroom. There are many flammable items in a bedroom; blankets, pillows, curtains, carpet, etc. With these odds, smoking in the bedroom is a risky proposition and should be avoided. Never smoke in bed! Bedrooms are not the only room at risk of catching fire due to smoking. Any room used for smoking is in jeopardy of catching on fire.

It is best to use a porch or balcony and keep the smoking materials out of the house completely. This is not only a benefit to the health of those in the home, but lowers the risk of a house fire significantly. However moving smoking activity to the porch does not completely eliminate the risk. Up to 18% of house fires caused by smoking start on the porch. This number has increased significantly over the last decade because more people have changed where they smoke. Fires need oxygen and there is plenty of air outside. Wind can be a good source of helping a smoldering ashtray ignite.

Prevention Tips:

  • Smoke outside
  • Fully extinguish what you are smoking
  • Use deep ashtrays or a self extinguishing ashtray
  • Don’t smoke near flammable materials – including oxygen tanks
  • Keep fire suppression supplies nearby

Electricity

Electronics

Faulty electronics, overloaded outlets and frayed cords can result in house fires. Take inventory of anything plugged in and confirm the cords are fray free. Keep cords away from rugs and curtains and animals that like to chew. If you have single outlets that are powering an array of electronics, look for ways to distribute the load. Distributing the load should be a consideration around the holidays when many people light up the house with plugs exposed to the elements. When lighting up the outside of your home, try to pull the power from multiple outlets and cover your exposed connection points with a safety cover.

Other electric devices that pose a risk are beauty tools, irons and hoverboards. Make sure these devices are turned off when not in use and kept away from anything flammable. If you have a hoverboard in the house or are planning to purchase one, make sure you do research on the brand and model. Hoverboards have been known to overheat and catch fire while charging and have led to many house fires.

Appliances

Frayed cords are not the only way electronic appliances can result in house fires. Clean your dryer vents! A clogged dryer vent is the cause of 2,900 house fires annually. Set a reminder to clean your dryer vents annually and if they haven’t been cleaned recently; do it now. When you enter this maintenance routine into your calendar, schedule it for the end of spring. House fires caused by dirty dryer vents tend to occur more in the fall and winter months. Lamps are also appliances that can cause an ignition. Bulbs can get hot and when introduced with a flammable substance, can create a flame. While in the moment, tossing your shirt over the lamp shade may help change the mood, but fearing for your life is not the objective.

Wiring

Faulty wiring can also result if electrical hazards that can cause house fires. Some of the symptoms that indicate faulty electrical wiring include:

– The lights dim when other appliances are in use
– Fuses blow or circuit breakers trip frequently
– You notice a fishy smell in specific areas of the home

The first two indicate overloaded circuits due to too much of a load or inadequate wiring. The last indicator ‘a fishy smell’ is because when faulty wiring is burning behind the walls it tends to release a fishy smell. Without any visual evidence of an issue, this odor should alert you to potential wiring issues.

Prevention Tips:

  • Check cords on electronic devices and appliances
  • Clean your dryer vent
  • Question a fishy smell (unless you are cooking fish)
  • Have a licensed electrician inspect your wiring
  • Keep fire suppression supplies nearby

Home Goods

Do you have gasoline or kerosene stored in the garage or shed? Do you have cleaning products under the sink? Where are your lighters and matches stored? Some of the supplies we keep around the house are ingredients for combustion. These supplies could ignite if not stored correctly, an accident occurs or curiosity gets the better of the inexperienced. A curious child that has not been taught the dangers of fire, could easily partake in activities that lead to a fire. Store your fire potential supplies in places in accordance with the instructions on the container and away from anyone that use them inappropriately.

Candles, while used as supplies in time of need, they are often using frequently for ambiance. Keep lit candles away from flammable material and away from children & pets. Extinguish the flame with a candle snuffer rather than blowing it out, which could cause an ember to fly.

Some of the things in our home change throughout the year; for example many people stand up a Christmas tree in their home. When introducing a real Christmas tree keep in mind that it has recently been cut down and in the process of dying. As it dies it will continue to get progressively dry and very flammable. Prolong the life of your tree and keep your family safe by keeping it well watered.

Prevention Tips:

  • Store flammables in accordance to the instructions
  • Keep dangerous supplies away from children
  • Exercise caution when using candles
  • Water your Christmas tree
  • Keep fire suppression supplies nearby

Knowledge is the Key

Teach your kids danger and help them understand how to avoid it. Children should not play with dangerous materials or liquids. Curiosity is dangerous and education is the greatest preventative measure. Adults can also change behaviors through knowledge, share this article with anyone that could benefit from these prevention tips.

Additional Reading
Continue your house fire prevention efforts by reading and following the steps outline in our house fire preparedness article. Then practice with your family by taking the fire evacuation challenge. Continue your education with informative sites like NFPA and FEMA.

Thank a Firefighter

When a house fire arises, the occupants of the home or building are not the only ones put at risk. Firefighters and their families are placed at risk while responding to the emergency. So if you know a firefighter, do something nice for them. If you want to support your local fire department, reach out and find the types of support most impactful for your local department.

Be Safe!

ImageDaniel Tausis



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