Home Fire Safety: Where & How Fires Start
Prevent fires in your home with fire safety tips and guidance on how to spot fire hazards throughout the property.
Avoiding Accidental House Fires
Fire safety is an often overlooked but critically important part of home ownership. It's so easy to get caught up in everyday routines that homeowners often put home fire safety and prevention on the back burner.
Yet the reality is that there are nearly 250,000 house fires in the U.S. every year, responsible for an annual average of 2,100 deaths, 7,950 injuries and $5.4 billion dollars in property damage.
All this at a time when fire safety is easier than ever. New technologies in appliances and devices throughout the home, such as light bulbs, dryers, outlets, wiring and more, help prevent fire accidents. Still, it's up to homeowners to be aware of common causes of house fires, and to take the steps to stop them before they start.
Where: In the KitchenAccording to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S., accounting for about 50% of all residential fires. Many of these accidents could be prevented by practicing basic fire safety.
Tips to prevent fires in the kitchen:
- Remain in the kitchen while simmering, baking or roasting food. Fires often start when homeowners leave the kitchen to do something else, like answer phone calls or multi-task from room to room. If you absolutely need to leave, turn the stove off. The food will be there when you get back, and in the same condition you left it in.
- Keep flammable items away from the stovetop and any open flames. Oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packages and paper towels are easy to lose track of, which could be dangerous if left in the wrong spot, such as near a skillet with hot oil.
- Don’t use the stovetop while sleepy or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Instead, order food, invite a friend to drop something off or come back to the kitchen when you’re ready.
- Keep children away from hot items and cooking areas. Try setting boundaries in certain areas of the kitchen to remind kids to stay away.
- Your grill isn’t in the kitchen, but it’s a common culprit in house fires. Position it at least 10 feet away from siding and deck railings and out from under leaves and overhanging branches.
How: Electrical Wiring
Homes with faulty or deteriorating wiring are susceptible to fires. This is especially the case in homes built more than 35 years ago, as the wiring has likely degraded with time. Frayed and cracked cords can set off sparks that catch on flammable items, such as curtains, carpet or furniture.
Tips to prevent electrical fires:
- Whether your home is new or you've lived there for years, give the wiring a close inspection to ensure it's safe, or hire an electrician for a professional opinion for optimum home fire safety.
- If your wires appear frayed, cracked or damaged, replace them immediately.
- If lights flicker or are hot to the touch, call a professional for help replacing them immediately.
- When purchasing new electrical products, be sure they've been evaluated by an accredited organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). To check, just look for the UL certified mark on the packaging or product.
- Three-prong plugs are meant for three-prong sockets. If there's not a three-prong socket where you want to plug in your appliance, don't force it into a two-prong socket. Although it's convenient, it's a dangerous fire hazard.
- Be careful with extensions cords and power strips. Extensions cords are intended to be run for short intervals and can pick up heat if run for too long of a period of time. Power strips should never be overloaded with too many appliances.
Where: Near Space HeatersHeating units such as space heaters and other portable heating devices are the second leading cause of residential fires, accounting for about 12.5% in the U.S. It’s of particular concern during winter, when homeowners are more likely to use heaters throughout the home.
Tips for preventing heater accidents:
- Place portable heaters at least three feet away from flammable objects. That means keeping it away from curtains, out from under desks, and far from trash cans.
- Only use heaters that have been certified by an accredited organization, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Just look for the UL certified mark on the product to see if it’s been evaluated.
- If you’re purchasing a portable heater, grab one with a thermostat control mechanism so that it can automatically turn off if it’s tipped over.
How: Open FlamesThis one may seem obvious, but it’s important to note that candles are one of the most common causes of residential fires. They’re sometimes placed too close to flammable items and forgotten, which can catch fire and lead to serious damage.
Tips for open flame fire safety:
- Keep candles away from flammable items and children’s rooms, and don’t leave them burning in an unoccupied room.
- Position candles so that they aren’t prone to tipping over, which is one of the most common ways that fires start from candles.
- Make sure to put out all candles before leaving the home or going to sleep.
- If you have a wood-burning fireplace, inspect and clean the chimney annually, and check on a monthly basis for damage or blockage.
- Refrain from burning trash, paper, or green wood in fireplaces.
- Check that your fireplace screen is heavy enough to prevent rolling logs from falling out of the fireplace toward flammable items.
- Ensure your fireplace screen covers the entire mouth of the fireplace so that it can catch any and all flying sparks.
- Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.
Where: Around ChildrenFires started from children are almost always accidental, but are a danger nonetheless. If you have kids in the home, make sure they know the rules of home fire safety.
Tips to protect children:
- Teach children the basics of fire safety so that they understand how important it is to be careful around fire.
- Make sure all fire starting materials are kept out of children’s reach and sight.
- Always monitor children while in the kitchen or near any open flames, such as candles or fires in the fireplace. Never leave them unattended.
- Keep an eye on children to ensure they aren’t playing with matches, lighters or other methods of starting fires.
House fires related to smoking have decreased significantly since 2008. Yet smoking remains a danger to homes and families, as smokers sometimes lose track of their smoldering butts in ashtrays and near flammable objects.
Tips for fire safety when smoking:
- The majority of home fires from smoking occur inside the home. The best way to prevent this is smoke outside, and put cigarettes out in a large ashtray that can properly secure the cigarette butt.
- Be totally sure cigarettes and ashes are out. If you want to be extra careful, put them in water before throwing them in the trash.
- Don’t smoke while lying in bed or on chairs or sofas that are susceptible to catching fire, and never put an ashtray on them. If someone has been smoking in your home, check furniture for butts that may have fallen into the cracks.
- Never smoke in a home where oxygen is used, even if it is turned off. Oxygen can be explosive and makes fire burn hotter and faster.
Fire Safety Essential: Check Your Smoke Alarms
While it’s important to prevent fires with the tips mentioned above, it’s critical to have properly functioning smoke alarms throughout the home. Fires spread fast and having a fully functioning smoke alarm can help give you and your family the extra time needed to get to safety.
Tips for smoke alarms:
- Make sure you have smoke alarms on every level of the home. It’s especially important to have them near bedrooms and other sleeping areas.
- Test smoke alarms at least once a month. Always keep a change of batteries on-hand in case they need replaced, so you don’t go any time without a functioning alarm.
- Create a fire escape plan and make sure your family knows it. Practice the plan several times per year so that you’re ready if needed.
- If a fire occurs in the home, GET OUT and CALL FOR HELP.
The information and advice contained in this article is intended as a general guide for informational purposes only. It does not take into account your personal situation. While we at Resolve have significant experience and history operating in the home restoration industry and working closely with construction contractors, we are not licensed as a general or specialty contractor. We encourage you to consider the information we’ve provided but urge you not to rely upon it in place of appropriate professional advice from a licensed, experienced construction contractor.