A fire breaking out in the home can be deadly. In 2015, there were 365,500 reported fires in homes across the US, resulting in 2,650 deaths, more than 11,000 injuries, and $7 billion of property damages.
Luckily, the number of house fires has been steadily declining over the past 40 years. Taking measures to prevent, detect, and properly react to fires can help protect you and your family from harm.
Common Fire Hazards Around the Home
Many household activities and appliances can become a fire hazard if you’re not careful. In particular, cooking, smoking, and using candles can all result in dangerous fires. Spotting hazards and dealing with them quickly and effectively can help prevent a fire from starting, and save lives.
Here are some common fire hazards found in many homes.
Cords that frequently get run over, stepped on, and worn out can become an electrical hazard. Damaged wires create dips and surges in electricity that lead to an imbalanced output from your power supplies. These fluctuations can contribute to starting a fire.
Damaged Plugs and Appliances
If you notice plugs or appliances sparking, producing an unusual smell, or overheating, they are likely worn out or damaged, and may lead to a fire. It is unsafe to continue using them.
Overloaded Outlets and Circuits
Overloading your circuits and outlets can increase your risk of fire. Using power strips provides a safe alternative to overloading outlets, and many are designed to fit specific areas to help you hide them from view.
Multiple Extension Cords
Using multiple extension cords to get power from a distant source can result in unsafe and unpredictable drops in voltage.
Most fires start in the kitchen. Turning away from the stovetop while cooking, leaving food in the oven for too long, or letting hot grease splash from a pan where it might ignite can all be a recipe for disaster. Loose clothing hanging over a source of heat is another potential hazard and can lead to serious burns.
Overheated washers and dryers
The laundry room is another area of the home where lots of heat is generated, which can cause lint in the dryer to catch fire. Lint will build up if the filters and vents are not cleaned out regularly.
Fires started by cigarettes, pipes, and cigars are one of the leading causes of fatal house fires.
Candles are an open flame. If knocked over, placed too close to flammable items, or left burning when no one is present, they can cause a house fire to break out.
Heated Beauty Tools
Hair straighteners and curling irons are responsible for many fires when handled carelessly. Leaving heated beauty tools plugged in after use or near flammable material when they’re hot can lead to fires.
Grilling outdoors on the barbecue, lighting a bonfire, or using fireworks are common causes of fires outside the home. These can spread quickly and may cause the house to catch fire, too.
Tips for Preventing House Fires
Most house fires are preventable. Taking a few simple measures to reduce fire hazards in the home can minimize your risk of a fire breaking out.
Preventing Home Fires
- Install smoke alarms and test them monthly.
- Store matches and lighters away from children’s reach.
- Never leave the stove or grill unattended while cooking.
- Use a timer to prevent food in the oven from burning
- Never put metal or foil in the microwave
- Do not wear loose-fitting clothing while cooking
- Ensure all flammable kitchen items, including towels and oven mitts, are kept away from sources of heat
- Clean spilled grease promptly
- Only smoke outside, and never smoke in bed
- Use ashtrays
- Douse butts and ashes from cigarettes or cigars with water or sand before discarding
- Never leave candles unattended, and blow them out before going to bed
- Do not place lit candles near flammable items, such as curtains
- Be careful not to knock over lit candles
- Never leave heated beauty tools (like hair straighteners or curling irons) plugged in or near flammable materials
- Never overload circuits or outlets
- Never plug extension cords together
- Repair or replace damaged plugs and frayed cords
- Use Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) to detect unsafe electrical currents and shut the power off before a fire can start
- Keep heaters clear of flammable material
- Avoid leaving portable heaters switched on when the room is empty or the occupants are sleeping
- Always use a dryer lint filter, and clean it after every use
- Don’t overload the dryer
- Avoid blocking the dryer’s air exhaust pipe
- Never set a bonfire when it’s windy
How to Handle a Home Fire
Fires can spread incredibly quickly. You may have less than a minute to react to the first signs of a fire before the flames spread and thick smoke fills the room. The smoke and heat can become disorienting and may inspire panic, but it’s important to stay calm and react responsibly to get yourself and your family out safely.
Understanding what to do in the event of a fire can prevent panic from taking over. Here are some things you can do to keep your family safe.
Develop a Family Fire Plan
Creating an evacuation plan for your family and practicing it regularly can help ensure that everyone reacts quickly and calmly if there is a fire. Have at least two ways of vacating your home in case one exit is blocked, and make sure you have at least one smoke alarm on each floor and outside bedrooms to alert you if a fire breaks out. Check that your windows can be opened easily if you need to make a quick exit through one.
Make sure everyone in the house knows what to do if the smoke alarm sounds, and teach your children to stay low to the ground and cover their mouth and nose if they see smoke. Check out our “Firefighter Says” game for a way to teach kids about fire safety.
Call 911 as Soon as Possible
Call 911 when you are safely outside. When firefighters arrive, tell them at once if any people or pets may be trapped inside. Don’t go back inside yourself.
If you do become stuck in the home, remain low to the ground while remaining visible to firefighters. Call 911 and tell them where in the home you are. To keep smoke out of the room, cover any vents, close the door, and use cloth to block the space beneath it.
Contain the Fire If Possible
A fire can sometimes be contained before it spreads and grows out of control. If the fire is still confined to one room, try to close the door to the room. If you have an appropriate fire extinguisher, use it on the flames. If a pan is on fire, put the lid over it to smother the flames. Never use water to put out a grease fire, as this will only make it worse.
Stop, Drop, and Roll
If your clothes catch fire, try not to panic. Immediately drop to the ground and roll back and forth to put out the flames, covering your face with your hands. You may also be able to smother the flames by covering them with a blanket or towel.
Avoid Warm Doors and Metal Door Handles
If your smoke alarm is sounding, your first reaction will be to get out of the house as quickly as possible. But try to move in an orderly fashion, being wary of where the fire is located.
Before opening any closed doors, check that the door is not warm to the touch—if it is, do not open it. Remember not to touch any metal door handles or knobs with your bare skin, as these may be very hot.
How to Handle a Fire-related Injury
If you experience a house fire, it’s important to know how to treat injuries until the fire department and paramedics arrive. While you should call the emergency services as soon as possible, there are some things you can do to help.
If someone has received a mild burn, apply cool water to their skin for five minutes, then cover the affected area with cloth that’s clean and dry. If the person has an open wound, don’t apply water. If burned clothing is stuck to the skin, never try to rip it off.
If an injured person stops breathing, perform CPR if you know how. Never block the airways of a person who has received a serious burn.
If someone is in shock, be gentle with them. Wrap them in a blanket if you have one to keep them warm. Try to make them lie down, and slightly elevate their legs. This will get the blood flowing back to their head.
Fires in the home can be devastating. By taking steps to reduce the risk of fire and knowing what to do if one breaks out, you can help keep your family safe.