Most Common Causes of House Fires and How To Prevent Them
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), US Fire Departments respond to an average of more than 350,000 home fires every year, causing about 2,500 deaths and nearly $7 billion dollars in damages. Sadly, many of these fires could have easily been prevented. Here’s the breakdown on the most common causes of house fires, and simple rules you can adopt in your own home.
#1 – Cooking equipment
47% of fires reported from 2011 – 2015 (NFPA) started in the kitchen. Here are some easy rules to follow to prevent cooking fires:
- Stay near the stove-top while cooking, and never EVER leave oil or grease unattended.
- Never cook when you’re overly tired or sleepy, or your motor functions are otherwise impaired.
- Keep flammable objects (paper, towels, oven mitts, etc.) away from the cook-top while in use.
- Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove-top.
*** To put out a pan fire, simply slide a lid over the top, and turn off the stove. Allow the pan to cool before handling! ***
#2 – Heating equipment
Heating equipment is the second most common cause of fires, at about 15%. Improper use or lack of maintenance is usually the culprit, which means that most of these types of fires can be easily prevented by taking these simple steps:
- Keep flammable objects (paper, clothing, plastics, etc.) away from the heating unit during use.
- Keep a “child-free” perimeter of at least 3 feet around any fire or source of heat.
- Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected professionally each year.
- Do not leave portable heaters unattended. Turn them off while sleeping or when leaving the area.
- Always use the proper fuel for any heating device.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, and test them monthly.
- When it comes to the fireplace, make sure you have a sturdy screen to prevent embers from flying into your living area and be sure to let ashes cool before discarding into a metal container.
#3 – Electrical
Nearly 10% of home fires are caused by some electrical fault. Here are some things you can do to help keep your family and home safe:
- Hire a qualified electrician to do any electrical work.
- Plug major appliances, like refrigerators, microwaves, etc. directly into a wall outlet. DO NOT ever use an extension cord or power strip for these items.
- Only plug one heat-producing appliance (coffee-maker, toaster, hair dryer) into any receptacle at one time.
- Keep electrical cords from running across doorways or under rugs or carpets. Only use extension cords temporarily, they are not intended for constant use.
- Call an electrician if you notice any of these problems:
- Frequent blown fuses or tripped breakers
- Tingling feeling when you touch an electrical appliance
- Discolored or warm outlets
- Sparks from an outlet when you plug in an item.
*** Remember: You don’t need a flame for a fire to start. Heat near any flammable object can just as easily start a fire! ***
Honorable Mention – Smoking, Clothes Dryers, and Young Children
Less common, but equally important, these causes can also be prevented with the proper precautions.
Smoking - Fires caused by smoking materials are the leading cause of fire deaths, and the victim is rarely the actual smoker.
- If you smoke, please smoke outside.
- Keep cigarettes, lighters and other smoking materials out of reach of children
- Ensure cigarette butts and ashes are completely extinguished. Water or sand are best.
- Never smoke where oxygen is being used.
Clothes Dryers – Unfortunately, of all dryer-related fires, the leading cause is failure to clean them properly.
- Clean the lint filters before each use, and NEVER use a dryer without a lint filter. Also clean the area around the drum where lint tends to build up.
- Clean and inspect the outdoor vent regularly. If you notice your clothes are taking longer to dry, there may be lint built up in the vent.
- Keep the area around your dryer clear of flammable objects such as boxes or cleaning supplies.
- Clothes that are soiled with a flammable substance should be air-dried outside before regular washing and drying.
Young Children – It’s natural for children to be curious or want to play with fire. However, proper training and rules can keep your family safe:
- Keep matches, lighters, and other fire starters securely out of the reach of children.
- Closely supervise children around any fire or heat source.
- Keep children at least 3 feet from any fire or heat.
- Teach your children about the dangers of fire and how quickly things can escalate beyond their control.
- Lead by example! Always follow fire safety rules, especially in the presence of children.