Over three-quarters of all home fires come from the following common hazards. Knowing what these hazards are and how to best prevent them will go a long way towards protecting your family and your home.
Cooking. Cooking leads to more house fires than any other single source. This includes microwaves, using cooking oil, using fryers, etc. — but by far the greatest factor in kitchen fires is simply unattended cooking.
- Never leave the kitchen unattended while cooking, especially when using oil or high temperatures.
- Be sure that all heating elements are turned off immediately after cooking is done.
- Keep combustible items like dish towels and loose clothing away from cooking surfaces.
- Bear in mind that Thanksgiving and other holidays lead the way in terms of most dangerous single days for cooking, so be extra astute.
Heating equipment. This includes your furnace, fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, etc.
- Have chimneys/fireplaces cleaned and inspected once per year — this is the leading cause of home fires related to heating.
- Have furnace inspected every year, change filters regularly, and consider having air ducts professionally cleaned to prevent the accumulation of dust.
- Never set clothes/shoes on a radiator or space heater to dry.
- Space heaters account for one-third of heating fires. Keep any flammable material at least three feet away, and make sure the heater is on an even and stable surface. Never leave space heaters on overnight or when you leave the home (there are timed space heaters that turn off after 1-4 hours that are a better option). Only use space heaters that shut off automatically when tipped over.
Smoking accidents. The number one cause of home fire deaths. Luckily, this hazard comes with a very simple solution: never smoke indoors (or better yet, never smoke period). When you’re finished smoking, be sure the embers are completely out in the ashtray, and preferably run under water. If you absolutely must smoke indoors:
- Make the bedroom off-limits, this is where the majority of smoking fires start.
- Use a deep ashtray, and make sure it’s always on a stable surface, away from flammable objects.
- Be aware of your drowsiness, especially when drinking. Most smoking fires occur because people drift off and forget to extinguish their cigarette/cigar.
- Never smoke in a home where supplemental oxygen is being used.
Electrical equipment. This includes electric appliances, lighting, outlets, and wiring.
- Check all appliances/lighting for frayed or damaged cords. Unplug and replace immediately if any are found.
- Use tamper resistant (TR) outlets. The average home has 75 outlets, and we all remember as kids how tempting it was to stick things in there. TR outlets utilize small shutters so that only a plug with two/three prongs can be inserted.
- Don’t overload outlets with high-wattage devices. Be especially wary of this in bathrooms and kitchens, and spread out your appliances as best as you can. It’s recommended to only have one high-wattage device per outlet.
- If you have regular problems with an outlet or wiring (sparking, frequent blown fuse, constant flickering in lights), contact an electrician to handle the problem instead of letting it fester.
- In lighting, use light bulbs that match the fixture’s recommended wattage.
- Only utilize extension cords as temporary use devices. If you are using one full-time in your home or garage, install another outlet.
- Don’t run extension cords under rugs, carpet, furniture, etc. Cords can get warm, and if it frays/wears out, it will pose a hazard.
Candles. Are often seen as the number one fire hazard (they aren’t), but with a few small measures, you can nearly eliminate the chance of a home fire happening from a candle.
- As you can imagine, winter is the most dangerous time for candles, with Christmas and New Year’s being the single worst days. Be extra aware, especially on holidays when there’s wrapping paper all over.
- One-third of candle fires start in the bedroom. If you want to have a romantic evening, make sure that candles are on a stable surface and won’t be knocked over. Keep it sexy but safe, folks.
- Keep candles at least a foot away from anything that will easily burn; more than half of candle fires start because they came in contact with a combustible material.
- Blow all candles out when leaving the room.
- Always keep candles out of reach of children.
Accidents involving children. We’ve all been there: kids love fire. Combine that with their insatiable curiosity, and you have a potential disaster on your hands. Heed the following tips to make sure your kids stay safe:
- Keep anything with a possible open flame out of reach of kids. This includes lighters, matches, candles, etc.
- Most of the fires in this category are caused by kids under 10 who play with matches and lighters. Even if you take the above advice, it seems like kids can still find ways to get their hands on fire. Most often, they know it’s bad, so will play in their rooms or closets. Be sure to: regularly check on your kids (especially if doors are closed and they are being extra quiet), know how many lighters/match boxes are in the home and where they are, bring up any melted toys you may find or burned spots on clothing.
- The best thing you can do is to simply teach your children about fire and fire safety. Teach them the escape plan, the sound of the smoke alarm, and even how to use fire as a tool. When they get old enough, let them help with the fire pit in your backyard, or with burning the brush in the fall (if legal in your area, of course). Taking the mystery out of fire is a good way to decrease their curiosity about it.
Flammable liquids. This would include gasoline, cleaning agents, paints, adhesives, etc. Vapors can ignite from high temperatures, or small sparks from static electricity or other sources. Don’t store these flammables near a heating source, but preferably outside the home in a cool, ventilated area.
Christmas trees/decorations. Decorating for the holidays accounts for hundreds of house fires each year. It’s easy to think of just how nice everything looks without realizing its potential hazard.
- Christmas trees are far and away the worst offender here. The real ones need a lot of watering, so keep it in a stand that can hold 2-3 liters, and top it each day. A dry tree with lights that can get hot when left on for too long can be a deadly combination.
- Keep the tree away from any heat sources, including radiators, fireplaces, space heaters, etc.
- Keep lit candles at least 12 inches away from your Christmas tree.
- If using a fake tree, make sure it’s flame retardant.
- Ensure that your decorations don’t interfere with your fire escape plan. Do not block windows or doorways if possible.
- Don’t leave holiday lights on unattended — both on the tree and outside. This is a toughie, as we all like to come home to a lit house, so if nothing else, don’t leave them on for more than a few hours if you’re away. Definitely don’t leave them on overnight or while you’re away for multiple days.
- Check your holiday lights before putting them on the tree or the house. Be sure there are no frays or broken bulbs that could have an exposed element.
- Don’t overload your outlets. As much as your inner man wants to light up the whole world like Clark Griswold, don’t do it. He’s lucky his power outage didn’t turn into a more serious problem.
Grilling. ESPN anchor Hannah Storm’s accident last year brought grilling safety to the forefront of people’s minds. If done properly, grilling is perfectly safe, but without thought or care it can turn dangerous very quickly.
- Always, always grill outside. Garages don’t count as outside. It should be placed well away from the home, as well as from decks and low-hanging tree branches.
- Clean the removable parts of your grill regularly, and don’t let grease build up on the trays underneath propane grills.
- Never leave the grill unattended.
- Check for propane leaks at least once per year. To do this, apply a light soap and water solution to the gas tank hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If there is a leak, immediately turn off the gas.
- Do not smoke while grilling.
- When done cooking, ensure that the burner controls are turned off and that the propane cylinder valve in closed.
- If you have a cover, make sure the grill is off and cooled before covering.
Clothes dryers. Seeing as how lint is a fantastic firestarter, it makes sense that an ill-maintained dryer could pose a serious threat.
- While it’s not common these days, don’t use a dryer that doesn’t have a lint filter.
- Clean the lint filter after every load. Also clean any lint from around the drum, and around the housing for the lint filter.
- At least once per year check the air exhaust pipe to the exterior of the home. Ensure that there is no blockage. While the dryer is running, you should feel (and smell) the fresh laundry air coming out.
- Preferably, don’t leave the dyer on overnight or while you’re not home.
- Don’t overload the dryer, as it can lead to an excess of lint.
Many of these tips are common sense, and yet when we have other things on our mind (especially at dinnertime, around the holidays, etc.), we can lose track of those basic precautions we’re normally on top of. You can never play it too safe with fire prevention. The most valuable things in the world — our home and families — depend on it.
by Jeremy Anderberg – www.artofmanliness.com