Every year, home fires claim the lives of close to 3,000 Americans and cause around $6 billion in damage. While fire deaths in the home are dropping — largely due to fire safety awareness and home building codes and techniques – far too many people in the United States die each year of something that is often preventable.
When it comes to household fires, the best way to survive one is to simply avoid having a fire start in your home. Practice diligence when working with or around the most common fire hazards in a home.
Cooking. Cooking leads to more house fires than any other single source. By far the greatest factor in kitchen fires is unattended cooking. Never leave the kitchen while cooking, especially when using oil or high temperatures. And if oil does ever catch fire in a kitchen, never, ever use water to attempt to put it out. This will spread the fire. Calmly turn off the heat source or remove the pan from the heat, attempt to smother the flames with a metal lid or flour, or use a fire extinguisher if all else fails.
Heating equipment. Have chimneys/fireplaces cleaned and inspected once a year. Never set clothes or shoes on a radiator or space heater to dry. Never leave space heaters on overnight or when you leave the home and only use space heaters that shut off automatically when tipped over.
Smoking. Smoking is the number one cause of home fire deaths and also has a very simple solution: never smoke indoors. The vast majority of smoking fires start in a bedroom, so don’t smoke in your bed.
Electricity. Overloaded circuits and misuse of extension cords, multi-outlet converters and power is another leading causes of home electrical fires. Never use extension cords, power strips or multi-outlet converters for appliances; all appliances should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Use only appropriate bulbs in lighting fixtures; higher wattage light bulbs may cause overheating. Overreliance on extension cords, power strips or multi-outlet converters is a sign that more wall outlets may need to be installed in a room or home.
Candles. One-third of candle fires start in the bedroom; make sure that candles are on a stable surface and won’t be knocked over. Be very alert during the holidays: Candles + wrapping paper + dried Christmas trees = a fire waiting to happen.
Flammable liquids. Vapors can ignite from high temperatures or small sparks from static electricity or other sources. Don’t store flammables like gasoline and certain cleaning agents near a heating source. They should be kept outside the home in a cool, ventilated area.
Clothes dryers. Clean the lint filter after every load. Also clean any lint from around the drum, and around the housing for the lint filter. At least once per year check the air exhaust pipe to the exterior of the home and ensure there is no blockage.
Prevention is the best way to avoid fires. But it would be irresponsible to not have defenses in place in the event of a fire. Always remember:
Smoke detectors. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test the batteries each month.
Fire emergency plan. Talk with all family members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year. The plan may include escape ladders if the home is two stories or more.
Fire Extinguishers. Having fire extinguishers in your home and knowing how to use them is a crucial part of your home’s emergency plan. They should be used only for fires that are very small and contained. Always keep an extinguisher near the kitchen and, preferably, on every level of the home.
Above all else, always remember that if a fire occurs in your home, get out, stay out and call for help. Never go back inside for anything.