When I was in high school, my house caught fire and we lost everything. It was a really traumatic experience that I’d never wish on anyone else.
Because of that, I want to break down how to deal with the top 5 most frequent causes of house fires.
But before I do that, we should probably figure out what fires need to survive. Once we have that, we will know how to extinguish them.
So the question is, what does a fire need to live?
Fuel is what the fire needs to consume in order to continue burning. In many kitchen fires, this is fat from cooking oils, rendering of meats or butter/lard. For candle fires, the fuel is the flammable item(s) that were too close to the flame.
By keeping intended fires, fireplaces, stove burners and candles away from other fuels, we can eliminate the ability for fires to grow. The most common way we put out fires is by making the fuel less flammable. We usually do this with water, soaking the fuel so that it would take much more heat to ignite the fuel. But not all fuel can be saturated. For instance, the fat from a cooking fire is already a liquid, and adding water to any fat will result in splattering which will likely result in injuries. Grease fires are the type of fires where we can’t mess with the fuel, so we need to find another method.
Fuel and oxygen cannot create a fire alone. Heat must be added for a fire to ignite. Therefore, removing heat can stop a fire. For instance, turning off the stovetop when you see fire will reduce the heat and decrease the fire.
Cigarettes and space heaters are two common sources of heat that start a fire.
Along with fuel, fire needs oxygen in order to stay alive. Like I said earlier, grease fires won’t be put out with just water. Instead, putting a lit on the pot will stop the flow of oxygen to the fire and ultimately suffocate and stop the fire.
Okay, so now for that list of the most common types of home fires. We will see how to fire-proof our home and how to combat fires when they occur.
The number one place for a fire to start in a home is the kitchen. The simple way to mitigate house fires is staying in your kitchen when you are cooking.
Now almost all of these fires occur on stoves, so the second best thing you can do is keep flammable items away from the stove. If the stovetop fire gets out of control and you decide to fight it, assume that there is oil, grease or fat fueling the flames. Because of that, don’t use water! Instead, just remove the source of fuel. For instance, remove the oxygen by smothering it with a pot lid. Or, you can try turning off the source of heat. This will make the fire rely on only the heat it generates, and without oxygen, it won’t be making more of that heat.
- Stay in the kitchen while cooking
- Keep flammable items away from the stove
- Smother instead of dousing with water
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, local fire departments responded to an estimated 52,050 fires involving heating equipment each year, accounting for 15% of all reported home fires during this time. These fires resulted in annual losses of 490 civilian deaths, 1,400 civilian injuries, and $1 billion in direct property damage.
There are a couple of easy tips you can follow to keep safe with these fires.
- Make sure wood-burning stoves are properly installed
- Turn off portable heaters when you leave the home or before you go to sleep
- Have chimneys inspected annually
- Us only the fuel specifically for your heater. Gasoline does not belong in a kerosene heater
- Make sure that all Fireplaces have a screen to retain and hot embers
- Burn dry and seasoned wood to reduce the cracking and hot embers
- Don’t burn coal in a fireplace that isn’t rated for that level of heat
Overloaded circuits account for most of the fires related to electricity.
- If you have permanent utilities that occupy the same electrical power strip, hire a licensed electrician to install additional receptacles instead
- Test the power strips to make sure that they trip
- Use only the recommended amount of power through an extension cord
- Make sure all faceplates are covering wall receptacles
- Don’t use a light bulb that exceeds the wattage for the lamp
- Use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) in all areas where cords are exposed to water/moisture
- GFCI’s detect overloads on a circuit and will cut power to it
- Replace fuses with breakers
- For any sleeping areas, replace standard breakers with Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)
- AFCI’s detect power leaks from a faulty cord
It’s estimated that cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, start an estimated 17,200 home structure fires annually. These fires cause an average of 570 deaths, 1,140 injuries and $426 million in direct property damage. Smoking materials cause 5% of reported home fires, 21% of home fire deaths, 10% of home fire injuries, and 6% of the direct property damage.
One out of four fatal victims of smoking-material fires is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire. So even if you are not a smoker, still be aware of the key tips:
- Consider smoking outside
- Put out your cigarette completely buy using water to ensure your butt does not ignite again
- Don’t fling your cigarette butts outside.
- First, it’s just disgusting and disrespectful
- Second, it’s littering and therefore illegal
- Third, it can ignite mulch or grass, causing forest fires
More than one-third of home candle fires started in the bedroom, and two of every five candle fires start when things that can burn are left near the candle. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:
- Don’t fall asleep with candles burning
- Consider flameless candles which can look, sound and smell like regular candles
- Use flashlights in emergencies over candles
- Unclutter surfaces from candles
One last thing…
Smoke detectors save lives. You should change the batteries in your smoke detectors each time you move your clocks forward or back.
Batteries aren’t cheap, but if you lost a loved one in a fire that could have been prevented you will find yourself saying “I would pay anything to get them back.” So spend a few dollars a year and keep everyone safe.