Fires are one of the primary causes of home injuries and fire hazards exist in nearly every room. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately two-thirds of fire-related home deaths occur because they either didn’t have smoke alarms or they weren’t working. Most home fires happen during the night and typically take place in the kitchen, fireplaces or rooms with space heaters. Other top home fire hazards include cigarettes, defective electrical appliances, faulty electrical wiring, overloaded electrical sockets and candles. When a fire ensues, it spreads rapidly. In just two minutes, a fire can become life threatening and in five, the home may be completely surrounded in flames. Home fires can be prevented by using smoke alarms and following some basic fire safety precautions while cooking; using fireplaces, woodstoves and home-heating appliances; practicing safety measures for home electrical cords, outlets and appliances; and smoking cigarettes or using candles.
Cooking Fire Prevention
Cooking equipment fires are the result of approximately 40 percent of home fires. Using safe cooking practices, safeguarding appliances, checking plugs and supervising children will ensure kitchen fire hazards are prevented. When cooking, wear short sleeves or roll them up tightly. Cook on back burners, monitor the stove constantly and never leave it unattended. Clean grease and other food debris left from cooking regularly, and keep pots and pan handles turned away from the stove’s edge. Store cookbooks, dish towels and potholders away from the stove and don’t cook when drinking alcohol or taking medication that causes drowsiness.
Children should be supervised at all times while in the kitchen. As young children become older and their mobility increases, so does their curiosity and the risk of fire hazards. Keep hot kitchen items and food within a safe distance from children and use high chairs and playpens as safety tools while cooking. Check electrical plugs and appliances for exposed wires, and unplug them at night and when not in use. In case of fire on the stove, carefully slide a lid firmly over the burning pan and turn the burner off. When cooking with oil or grease, don’t pour water on the flame, as it will ignite the fire. Ensure there is an easily accessible fire extinguisher in the kitchen at all times. Don’t use aluminum foil to cover food when using microwave ovens, and following the cooking instructions shown on food labels. If a fire ignites, turn the microwave off and unplug it.
Fireplace and Wood Stove Fire Prevention
Start fires using seasoned firewood that is cut to the correct length or manufactured fire logs, which can be purchased at hardware stores. Don’t overload fireplaces and use strong, sturdy screen covers so that loose embers can’t ignite. Never attempt to burn newspapers, garbage, charcoal or plastic and don’t use liquid accelerants or gasoline to ignite them. Tend to the fire continually and ensure it’s completely out before leaving the house or going to bed. Clean ashes out of fireplaces and wood stoves frequently by disposing of the debris in non-combustible containers with tightly-fitting lids that are kept away from the house. Chimneys should be cleaned regularly and inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep to ensure there is nothing blocking the chimney, and there is no structural damage, cracks or faults, which could result in fire hazards.
Home Heating Fire Prevention
A qualified professional should check home heating systems annually. Kerosene and portable electric heaters are high-risk fire hazard appliances and should be used carefully. Kerosene heaters should never be used inside the home, as it’s a direct violation of the fire code. When purchasing space heaters, ensure they are UL-approved and have safety shut-off switches that turn off when they’re tipped over. The majority of fires are caused by combustible materials being placed near space heaters. Store rags, newspapers and clothing away from space heaters, and ensure there is at least three feet of space between them and combustible materials, such as curtains, chairs or beds.
Electrical Fire Prevention
Electrical fires are also a leading cause of home fires, but easily avoided by practicing general fire safety precautions. Use covers on unused electrical outlets and make it a practice of checking the cords of electrical fixtures and lamps to ensure there are no frayed wires. Replace worn and damaged appliance cords and don’t hide them underneath furniture or rugs. Purchase only UL-approved cords and don’t overload electrical extensions or wall sockets. Use three-prong plugs in three-slot outlets, as opposed to forcing them into two-slot outlets or extension cords, which can cause fires.
Cigarette Fire Prevention
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths in bedrooms, dens, family and living rooms and smoking-related deaths increase with age. Smoking should be done outside the house, and cigarettes should be extinguished immediately in deep ashtrays or metal trashcans using water or dirt. Don’t throw cigarettes into gardens, potted plants, peat moss, mulch or dried grass, which ignites easily. Never smoke near highly flammable medical oxygen tanks and avoid smoking while taking medication that causes drowsiness. Choose fire-safe cigarettes, don’t smoke in bed and keep matches and lighters away from children.
Candle Fire Prevention
While burning candles, don’t touch or move them after they’ve been burning long enough to become liquid in the center. Since candles have open flames, they can ignite easily when placed near combustible materials, therefore; ensure they are kept away from other liquids, papers, clothing, books and curtains. Place lit candles at least three-inches apart and keep them on sturdy, heat-resistant surfaces, such as glass tables or candle holders and don’t leave them unattended. Extinguish candles when they burn down to two inches of their holders, trim candle wicks to ¼-inch and throw them away when ½-inch of wax remains. Put candles out using a candle snuffer as opposed to using fingers, water or paper products, and ensure they are out before leaving the house or going to sleep. Avoid using candles as a light source during a power outage or near equipment that uses kerosene as a heating source, and avoid carrying them around the house. Ensure children are supervised at all times and place candles on high platforms and out of their reach.
To learn more about home fire hazard preventions, consult the following links.
- U.S. Fire Administration (USFA): In partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USFA provides home fire prevention information on topics, such as smoke alarms, escape planning, residential fire sprinkles; candle, cooking, heating and electrical safety; and fire extinguishers.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) : A list of prevention tips that help prevent fire deaths and injuries.
- Ready: A national public service awareness campaign dedicated to educate American’s about being prepared for emergencies. The site provides education on learning what the effects of fire are, what to do before, during and after a fire, and how to prevent home fires from occurring.
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): A resource for creating a fire escape plan, which includes basic guidelines, clearing escape routes, escape planning and fire safety for children’s sleepovers.
- Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSA): A resource for fireplace, chimney and woodstove fire prevention tips, information and how-to guidelines.
- Burn Prevention Foundation: A PDF document that includes fire prevention tips regarding dryers, candles, space heaters and smoking.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC): A PDF document illustrating the importance of home smoke alarms, where they should be installed, how they operate and how to use them, in addition to the types that are available.
- Home Fire Protection Housing Fact Sheets: A PDF home fire protection fact sheet offered by Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension, which describes fire statistics, as well as what to do in case of fire and general home fire prevention strategies.
- National Safety Council: The site provides comprehensive information and resources for family fire safety tips, a home fire safety checklist, instructions for installing a home sprinkler system and smoke alarm, and a learning center, which offers current fire prevention news.
- Firewise Communities: A site that provides fire prevention information that ensures the safety of communities and homes, in addition to printable resources, such as brochures, booklets, newsletters and videos.
- The National Association of State Fire Marshals: Fire protection and safety information provided through the Residential Fire Safety Institute (RFSI), which is a public interest group committed to promoting fire-safe homes through education. They offer information on how to make homes safe, as well as fire protection resources.
- American Red Cross: The American Red Cross is the nation’s premier emergency response organization and through its website, the organization offers a fire prevention a safety checklist, in addition to fact sheets related to escape planning, holiday fire prevention, home heating safety, smoke alarms, and child fire safety guidelines.
- Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition: A resource that provides educational materials regarding home fire sprinklers, how they work, how to install them and why they’re important, as well as fire safety videos and interactive materials.
- Fire Extinguisher:101: A guide explaining what types of fire extinguishers are available, how to use the, where to place them in the home and how to care for and maintain them.
- Community Emergency Response Team (CERT): A PDF fire hazard mitigation checklist created by Citizen Corps for electrical appliances, outlets, wiring and cords; natural gas hazards and flammable liquids.
- SafetyResource.org: A safety resource that offers general safety tips and articles related to electrical appliances, smoke detectors, lighters and matches, safety rules for children and kitchen, bedroom and fireplace fire precautions.
- The Fire Safe Council: Through its website, The Fire Safe Council provides educational tools that teach homeowners how to safely landscape their homes, how to prepare for fire season, a homeowner fire safety checklist and a questionnaire titled “How Fire Safe is Your House?”
- National Fire Safety Council, Inc.: The National Fire Safety Council, Inc. is a non-profit organization committed to distributing educational resources and materials for adults, seniors and children. The organization’s website provides fire safety manuals and information regarding burn prevention, matches, candles and lighters.
- KidsHealth: In combination with Nemours, KidsHealth offers fire prevention information on topics, such as electrical hazards, portable heaters, kitchen fire risks, the fireplace, cigarettes, matches, lighters, candles, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, in addition to teaching children fire safety skills.
- National Candle Association: A comprehensive source for candle fire safety information and resources that explains how to burn candles safely and how to extinguish them.
- The National Association of State Fire Marshals: A PDF document titled “Candle Fires in Residential Structures,” which illustrates research statistics related to fires caused by candles, as well as prevention measures.
- Cooking Fire Safety: A PDF fire prevention safety sheet from the Office of Fire Prevention and Control New York.
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services: A site that offers an electrical and fire safety printable fact sheet, as well as information on fire and burn prevention and electrical safety.
- Baltimore County Maryland Fire Safety Education: A source of information regarding fire safety precautions to be taken during winter when using portable space heaters, fireplaces and woodstoves.
- City of Mercer Island Washington Fire Prevention Information: The website provides descriptions of electrical fire safety hazards, home fire prevention tips, and fire safety information for babysitters, the disabled and the elderly.
- Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association: A PDF information sheet containing fireplace safety tips for fireplace safety and maintenance, how to safely light a fire and chimney sweeping.
- North Tongass Fire Department Fire Safety: A PDF document titled “Wood Stove Safety,” which illustrates installation tips, chimney installation, how to operate and maintain wood stoves, and how to reduce and be prepared for fires.
- Clarkdale Fire District: A PDF checklist that helps reduce home fire hazards by taking precautionary steps related to smoke alarms, fire escape planning and a fire safety home walk through.
- International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI): A holiday home safety tip page for safe holiday lighting, decorations, entertaining, fireplaces, toys, ornaments, children and pets.
- Burn Institute: A thorough source of fire prevention information, which offers printable PDF fact sheets related to teaching children how to teach children fire safety precautions, how to develop a personal home escape plan, home prevention tips and proper fire-safe landscaping ideas.