According to the National Fire Protection Association, around 360,000 home structure fires occur in America each year. These disasters result in $6.7 billion in damage to homes every year, but more importantly, they threaten the lives of those inside of them.
The damage caused by a house fire happens quickly. It can take only a few minutes for smoke to fill an entire house, or for flames to spread throughout the entire building. Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of fire in your home—education and preparation are two of the strongest defenses. The following are some of the most frequent causes of fires in the home, as well as some simple strategies to prevent them:
Cooking accidents are not only the top cause of home fires, but are also the most common cause of fire-related injuries. Approximately two-thirds of fires in the kitchen occur because food or other materials ignited near the stove.
Cooking fires are most likely to start on the stovetop, especially when you’re cooking with a lot of grease. It’s therefore extremely important to stay in the kitchen the entire time you’re cooking, and to pay close attention to what you’re doing. Never leave food unattended on the stove, and if you do have to leave the room while cooking, turn off the burners. Keep your cooking space clear of flammable items such as paper towels and pot holders, and be sure to thoroughly clean your cookware and stovetop to prevent the buildup of grease.
If a fire does occur while you are cooking, never attempt to extinguish it with water. Water will only fuel a grease fire. Instead, smother fires on the stovetop with a pan lid, and address oven fires by closing the door, turning off the oven, and allowing the fire to burn out.
Working smoke detectors and an easily accessible fire extinguisher are critical tools to defend against fires in the kitchen. Homeowners can also consider installing fire sprinklers, which can decrease the risk of fire-related deaths in the home by 80 percent.
Candles can be a great way to make your home smell nice and create a relaxing ambiance. However, if you’re not careful, they can become a serious safety risk.
Between 2009 and 2013, the NFPA logged the equivalent of 25 candle fires per day. Approximately one-third of these candle fires ignited in the bedroom, and the majority occurred because the candles were placed too close to furniture, curtains, or other flammable items.
When lighting a candle, always make sure that it is at least one foot away from anything that could catch fire. You should also make certain that the candle is thoroughly secured and cannot be accidentally tipped over by passing pets or family members. Using an appropriately sized candle holder can often prevent this.
Worn out, overloaded, or otherwise faulty electrical systems are another common causes of house fires. Any appliance, fixture, or wiring can become a potential fire risk if not sufficiently maintained, from an overheated lightbulb to a frayed extension cord. However, the majority of fires stemming from faulty electrical distribution are due to wiring problems.
To prevent electrical fires, always select a cord that is designed for the job at hand, and avoid relying too heavily on extension cords in your home. Do enough research to ensure that you are choosing extension cords and surge protectors that are well-equipped for the given environment and electrical load. Don’t wait to replace cords that are broken or malfunctioning.
Additionally, make sure you know the electrical capacity of your home’s circuits. Don’t plug in more appliances and devices than the circuit can handle. For extra peace of mind, you might consider hiring an electrician to inspect your home’s wiring, particularly if you live in an older home.
Overheating appliances can also spark electrical fires. You can reduce the risk of fire by never plugging more than one heated appliance, such as an iron or coffee maker, into the same electrical outlet. Each year, thousands of fires start due to malfunctioning clothes dryers, and in many cases, these can be prevented. Keeping your dryer clean and clear of debris can significantly decrease the risk that it will cause a fire. Clean your dryer’s lint screen after every load, and never run your dryer without it in place. In addition, you should ensure that your dryer is equipped with a ventilation shaft that leads outside of the house and is clear of debris.
Portable heating equipment is another common cause of appliance fires. These fires can be particularly dangerous, as they can quickly spread from a space heater placed on the floor to furniture, curtains, and other flammable items. To use a portable heater safely, dedicate a single outlet for it, and never leave it running unattended. As an extra layer of protection, you can unplug it completely when you leave the house.
Simple Prevention Strategies
Although most homes are equipped with smoke detectors, approximately 60 percent of all house fire fatalities could have been avoided by the presence of a functioning smoke alarm. An easy way to protect your home from house fires is to ensure that your smoke detectors are working in every room. Never disable your smoke detectors, and remember to change the batteries on a regular basis.