Fire Prevention Month: 5 Facts About Home Fires & How to Prevent Them

Posted by Laine Smith on 10/8/15 12:20 PM

Topics: Home Ownership

According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 369,500 home structure fires in 2013. Those 369,500 fires caused 2,755 deaths, 12,200 injuries, and $7 billion in property damage. There is no time like the present to make sure your home isn't susceptible to fire and what you and your family can do in the event of one.

Fire Prevention Month

Fact #1: Electrical fires caused $1.5 billion in direct property damage between 2007 and 2011.

Among those electrical fires, approximately half involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment. Other leading types of equipment that caused fires were washers and dryers, fans, portable or stationary space heaters, A/C equipment, water heaters and oven ranges. To cut down the risk of electrical fire in your home:

  • Replace missing or broken wall plates so wiring and components are never exposed.
  • Never force plugs into outlets.
  • Avoid overloading outlets with adapters and multiple appliance plugs.
  • Use extension cords only on a temporary basis; they are not intended for permanent household wiring.
  • Make sure light bulb wattages match fixture requirements.
  • Make sure GFCI's are installed anywhere water is present (kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, etc.).
  • If an appliance repeatedly blows a fuse, shocks you or trips your circuit breaker, immediately unplug it and have it serviced and repaired or replaced.

Fact #2: The leading cause of heating equipment home fires between 2007 and 2011 was failure to properly clean chimneys.

When you burn wood in your fireplace, a by-product is released known as "creosate". If build-up is substantial and a fire burns hot enough, it can cause the creosate to combust into a chimney fire. At a minimum:

  • Have your chimney swept at least once a year prior to the heating season.
  • Burn the right type of wood; firewood that is green, wet or from resinous tree types like pine are more prone to combustion.
  • Build your fire correctly by starting off small. Smaller fires generate less smoke and are less likely to generate enough heat to crack your chimney.

Fact #3: Two out of every five home fire starts in the kitchen.

Two-thirds of those kitchen fires start when food or other cooking materials have ignited; the other third occur due to unattended cooking, with oven ranges accounting for 3 out of every 5 home cooking fire incidents. Though prevention tips of kitchen fires may seem obvious, make sure to:

  • Have a fire extinguisher kept in your kitchen.
  • Clean cooking surfaces regularly to avoid grease build-up.
  • Use a timer to remind you the oven is on.
  • Turn off the oven in the event of an oven fire and keep the oven door closed.
  • Always cook with a lid beside your pan, especially if you are cooking with oil. If a fire starts while you are cooking, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner to suffocate the flames.

Fact #4: 60% of home fire deaths are caused by fires in homes with no or non-working smoke detectors/alarms.

Working smoke alarms cut the risk of home fire deaths in half, but when smoke alarms fail to operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected or dead. To ensure that your smoke alarms are working properly:

  • Test them monthly.
  • Replace battery-powered devices twice a year. A good way to remember to do this is to change batteries when changing your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
  • Consider changing your battery-powered smoke alarms to hardwired alarms. In fires considered large enough to activate smoke alarms, hardwired devices operated 93% of the time in comparison to battery-powered alarms which worked 79% of the time.
  • Replace the actual device every 8-10 years to ensure the detector has not desensitized. Write the date of installation on the inside of the device.

You should also make sure there is an adequate amount of alarms in your home. The National Fire Protection Association recommends having one installed in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement.

Fact #5: Only 1/3 of Americans have developed and practiced a home fire escape plan.

Preparation is key for home fire safety. One-third of Americans surveyed believe they would have at least 6 minutes before a fire in their home would become life-threatening, but the time available to escape is often much less. You and your family should practice a home fire escape plan at least once a year. To develop a plan:

  • Find two ways to get out of each room.
  • Have collapsible ladders for window escapes accessible on multi-story homes.
  • Make sure windows are not stuck and screens can be removed quickly.
  • For households with children, draw out their escape route on a map of your floorplan.

If a fire starts in your home, you may have as little as two minutes to escape. Proper escape planning, working smoke detectors, and preventative measures can help keep your family and your home safe from the hazards of a fire.

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