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Hot Takes on Fire Safety, Part 1: Every Household Should Know the Top Causes of Home Fires

Health & Safety

April 22, 2020

Picture the entire layout of your home, all the doors and windows and hallways. Add in the personal details: Where do the kids sleep, where is your TV, router, cable box, etc. plugged in. Where are your major appliances? Where is the furnace?

Now imagine that detailed layout is now a huge blueprint. We’re handing you a marker. Circle the fire hazards. Have a pen and paper nearby? Go ahead and jot down everything you circled. We’ll get back to that later.

Could you do it? If you dove in without hesitation, good for you! If you weren’t really sure where to start, what follows is going to be required reading, because your home fire safety IQ is a huge deal. How huge?

That’s about 360,000 home fires a year. 

And in those home fires, people get hurt. 

In fact, each year about 11,000 people are injured in home fire, and 2,700 people die.  

And the property damage is staggering, too:

According to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) research on home structure fires, the majority of home fires are caused by very common household items and activities — some that may be obvious hazards, and some not so much.

Let’s walk through these common causes of house fires now. We’ll give you some tips to help you stay safe.

Most common causes of homes fires

Cooking

If you’ve got a packed schedule, multi-tasking in the kitchen is probably on your resume. This goes double for parents who recently took on the role of schoolteacher. But according to the NFPA, cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home injuries.

Cooking is an amazing way to bring families together and explore creativity, so don’t give up on your Master Chef dream just yet. Here’s some best practices:

  • Stay in the kitchen while frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food. Turn off the stove if something pulls you away.
  • Create a 3-foot, kid-free zone around the stove or other appliances. If your kids want to help, give them a task you can supervise at a safe distance.
  • Keep anything flammable (oven mitts, towels, curtains) away from the stovetop.
  • Avoid cooking when you’re tired or drinking alcohol.

Remember: If you have any doubts about your ability to put out a cooking fire, just get out! Gather your family, close the door behind you, and call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number once everyone is out safely.

Heating

When we say “heating fire risks,” we’re covering a broad range of appliances and household devices including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, or space heaters. We want you keeping those toes warm all year, but doing it safely:

  • Keep anything that burns at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • If you smell gas, get out of the house and call your local fire department or gas company.
  • Clean out your clothes dryer’s lint filter after every use. Disconnect, clean, and inspect your dryer duct run on a regular basis. 
  • Clean chimneys and fireplaces every year.
  • Put a screen over your fireplace to prevent sparks from starting a fire.
  • Always use the fuel recommended by the manufacturer for fuel-burning heaters.
  • Turn off space heaters before going to bed.

Remember: Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by fuel-burning equipment like gas stoves, clothes dryers, and furnaces. This poisonous gas is odorless, colorless, and totally undetectable without the proper life safety equipment. Install monitored CO detectors to help prevent CO poisoning.

Electrical Equipment & Lighting

You don’t need a flame to start a fire. Fires can start when heat builds up near things that burn. This can happen when a hot light bulb is near items like cloth or paper, or when a cord is running under a carpet. Be sure to check your home for electrical hazards!

  • Have all electrical work done by a qualified professional.
  • Check all the electrical appliances in your house for fraying wires.
  • Make sure your lightbulbs match the wattage that’s safe for your lamps or fixtures.
  • Major appliances like refrigerators should be plugged directly into a wall outlet (no extension cords or strips).
  • Don’t let your outlets get overloaded. Just one high-wattage appliance per outlet.
  • Call a professional if you see any signs of trouble, including:
    • A tingly feeling when you touch appliances
    • Discolored or warm outlets
    • Burning or rubbery smell
    • Flickering or dimming lights

Remember: Electrical outlets can be dangerous for little hands. Tamper-resistant outlets are an important part of childproofing your home, and they’re also pretty inexpensive.

Candles

We’ve all gone a little wild smelling candles in store aisles. And now that we’re spending so much time at home, they’re really nice to have around. But burning candles irresponsibly can lead to disaster, so be sure to “candle with care.”

  • Keep them at least a foot away from anything that burns.
  • Make sure they are placed on steady surfaces that won’t tip over.
  • Always blow out candles when you leave a room or go to bed.
  • Never leave children or pets alone with a burning candle.
  • Make sure matches or lighters are locked up and kept out of a child’s reach.
  • Try flameless candles. They look and smell like the real thing!

Remember: Medical oxygen can cause materials to ignite more easily and make fires burn at a faster rate than normal. If anyone in your home is using oxygen, use extreme care or avoid candles altogether.

Smoking materials

Smoking causes 21% of home fire deaths, and most of the fires start indoors, in places like living rooms and bedrooms. We recommend you nip these concerns in the bud by not smoking, but we’ll give you some general safety tips anyway.

  • Only smoke outdoors.
  • Keep all smoking materials, including lighters and matches, secured away from children.
  • Use a deep ashtray and sturdy ashtray.
  • Never toss a burning cigarette into something dry, like grass or leaves.
  • Make sure butts and ashes are totally extinguished before tossing them, using something like water or sand before tossing them.
  • Never smoke around someone using medical oxygen.

Remember: E-cigarettes and vaping devices pose a fire hazard, too. Use extreme caution, and never leave these devices charging unattended or charging overnight.

Fire safety at home for the holidays

We know decking the halls might seem an eternity away right now, but no conversation about home fire safety would be complete without mention of the holidays. Why? Risks around the holidays are like an amalgam of the risks we face the rest of the year, mashed together and super-charged.

Fires spike around the holidays, stemming from activities like putting up a Christmas tree, decking the halls, lighting a menorah, or deep-frying a Thanksgiving turkey. Remember these tips:

  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords don’t get damaged.
  • Keep your Christmas tree from drying out by watering it daily.
  • Don’t leave your holiday cooking or candles unattended.
  • Ask any guests who smoke to do so outdoors.
  • Turn decorative lights off before going to bed.

Remember: Be particularly careful with old/vintage electrical decorations. We know they hold special meaning — and look extremely cool — but they may not be as fire-safe as modern ones.

Preventing House Fires

Let’s go back to that blueprint of your home. Did the risks you noted match the areas we covered? If not, look at your home again with fresh eyes and make some changes! If yes, well, you just earned yourself a gold star.

There is no fool-proof way to prevent fires at home, but these tips will put you on smart path. Next time, we’re going to talk about the life-saving importance of fire detection, and what your options are to protect your home and your family. We’ll leave you with a statistic:

More than three out of every five home fire deaths happen in homes that do not have smoke alarms, or the smoke alarms aren’t working.  

When’s the last time you checked the smoke detectors in your home?

This is part 1 of a 3-part series covering the essentials of home fire safety and prevention. To learn more about what Guardian Protection’s professionally monitored fire alarm systems can do for you, call 1.800.PROTECT, or sign up for a free consultation at guardianprotection.com.

Read Part 2 for answers to all the big questions about smoke detectors.

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