It’s important to prepare an escape plan in place to ensure everyone knows how to respond in the event of a fire. However, prevention is equally as valuable to preparation. Knowing the most common causes of home fires can help homeowners practice fire safety in the home, and take preventative measures.
Cooking is the leading cause of residential fires. According to the USFA, 51.6% of home fires are caused by cooking accidents or faulty cooking equipment. Oftentimes homeowners will become distracted and walk away from the stove, coming back to find their food has burned and started a fire. Other common situations that can cause a fire are leaving a cookbook too close to an open-flame gas stove or leaving toasters and hotplates unattended.
Practicing Fire Safety in the Kitchen
To prevent fires in the kitchen, be sure to:
Never leave food unattended in the kitchen;
Be mindful of loose-fitting clothes near the stove burners;
Keep hot pads, oven mitts, and food packaging away from heat sources;
Use the lowest heat setting possible;
Avoid putting any metal in the microwave;
Clean up any spills;
Double-check to make sure all burners and the oven is off.
In the event a fire has started in the kitchen, turn off any gas or appliance that is fueling the fire — if it is possible to do so. If a pot or pan has caught fire, leave the lid on until it has cooled down. If the fire is still going, use a fire extinguisher, baking soda, or a fire blanket to smother it.
Heating Systems and Appliances
The USFA states that heating systems and appliances are the second-leading cause of residential fires at 9.1%. Most of these fires are caused by space heaters. These heaters are often placed too close to combustible items like curtains, bedding, or paper products, and can cause a dangerous house fire quickly. If the space heater is left in a big room, there is a chance it may never cycle off and become overheated.
Fireplaces are another source of home fires. Heating equipment that hasn’t been used for a long time is often dirty, which increases the risk of a house fire. A lack of maintenance can cause embers to get caught in the chimney and start a fire as well.
Proper Heating System and Appliance Use
Portable space heaters are convenient, but homeowners should exercise caution when using them. To keep their homes safe, homeowners should:
Make sure their space heater was tested by a recognized testing lab;
Read the instructions;
Check for cracked or broken plugs;
Never leave a space heater unattended;
Keep the heaters three feet away from combustible items;
Plug heaters directly into a wall outlet;
Place space heaters on a flat surface;
Always unplug space heaters when they are not in use.
Fireplace tool sets can help maintain a fireplace area so there is less risk of a fire. Ashes should be placed in a metal container and wet so they can’t start a fire, and an annual chimney check will help prevent chimney fires. Likewise, the shelving and mantel surrounds must be kept clean and free of debris to ensure a fire cannot spread outside the fireplace. Another solution would be to purchase an electric fireplace. These fireplaces have a life-like flame that can be operated with or without heat and are less of a fire hazard.
Faulty Wiring or Electrical Equipment
Electrical fires are caused by equipment malfunctions, an overloaded circuit, or overheated appliances. The USFA states wiring issues cause 6.5% of home fires. For example, toasters could start a fire if a wire is exposed or faulty. Some common electrical problems that can occur in households are loose outlet plugs, broken light switches, short circuits, and cut or damaged extension cords. It’s easy to disregard these wiring issues as a mere annoyance, but they can become fatal.
Recognize and Address Warning Signs of Poor Wiring
Generally, a professional contractor will be needed to fix wiring issues. However, there are warning signs that homeowners can be aware of so they know when their wiring needs to be repaired. Common signs include:
Flickering or buzzing lights could be a sign of a poor connection and result in sparking, overheating, and fires. Shut off the light at the circuit breaker to check for faulty wiring.
Frayed or chewed wiring could lead to electrocution. For a long-term solution, replace the wires or the appliance.
Frequent circuit breaker trips are usually a sign that the circuit is overloaded. Adding another circuit or upgrading electrical services could remedy this.
Dead outlets can be a sign of a short circuit. If a flipped breaker doesn’t bring it back to life, it’s time to call an electrician.
Frequently burnt-out lightbulbs may be a sign of a loose connection in the socket or a circuit.
Warm outlets or switches are a serious warning sign and should be addressed by a professional immediately.
The USFA estimates that 5% of house fires are caused by smoking materials, including cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. Even e-cigarettes can cause fires, either while they are in use, being charged, or in transport. Lit cigarettes can fall between cushions in furniture and can set trash alight when thrown away improperly. According to the National Park Service, almost 1,000 smokers are killed in their homes from fires every year. This makes smoking the number one cause of fire deaths in the United States.
Safe Smoking Etiquette
Though the most surefire way to prevent fires from smoking is to kick the habit altogether, there are other precautionary practices smokers can take to prevent fires:
Use fire-safe cigarettes;
Keep cigarettes and other smoking materials out of reach of children;
Use a deep, sturdy ashtray;
Do not throw the cigarette away in vegetation;
Make sure the butts are out before throwing them away;
Never smoke near medical oxygen.
Candles have been known for their therapeutic benefits for many years. Consumers purchase candles for their aesthetic and aromatherapy. The National Candle Association cites that consumers use candles to make a room comfortable or cozy. However, candles can also start house fires quickly. The National Fire Protection Agency reported an average of 9,300 home fires in the U.S. that were started by candles.
Indoor Candle Safety
To practice candle safety, follow these three rules:
Never leave a burning candle unattended;
Never burn a candle near (or on) flammable objects;
Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
However, these are not the only rules to live by when burning candles in the home. Best practices include:
Cutting the wick to ¼ an inch to avoid uneven burning, dripping, or flaring.
Keeping the wax pool clear of wick trimming and matches.
Using a candleholder specifically for candle use.
Avoiding drafts or air currents.
Refraining from burning candles for longer than four hours.
Using long matches or a long-reach lighter to avoid burning yourself.
Only burning the candle until there is ½ inch left.
Extinguishing the candle if it flickers frequently.
Using a candle snuffer.
Making sure the candle is completely out.
Another solution would be to purchase electric candles. These types of candles can be placed on fireplace mantels without the risk of causing a fire. They also create a similar ambiance and aesthetic as regular candles.
Practicing fire safety is an important aspect of homeownership that everyone should be aware of. Since fires can get out of control quickly, make sure that all fire sprinklers and smoke detectors are working ahead of time, so those in the home can get out safely.