4 Leading Causes of House Fires - How to Prevent Them?

ELIZA MOYER

Accidental house fires can ignite suddenly and spread uncontrollably. Capable of wiping out a home within minutes, they endanger everyone on the property and cause thousands of dollars worth of damage. There are potential fire starters in every house, and sometimes you might not realize the risk they pose until it’s too late. 

With house fires presenting such a significant hazard, you must be aware of the potential causes and how you can prevent one on your property.  Take a look at the common ways house fires start in the US so you can identify the areas where your home is most vulnerable.

LEADING CAUSES OF HOUSE FIRES

Cooking Fires

The kitchen is the heart of the home and a place where many families spend time making memories. However, they are also the most common location for house fires to start. Between 2014-2018, the US fire department responded to an average of 172,900 home fires started by cooking. The kitchen provides many opportunities for fires to ignite, from unattended burners to dish towels getting too close to open flames. 


To prevent fires from starting in your kitchen, you must take precautions when cooking. Constantly keep your eyes on the stove, oven, and other appliances that pose a fire risk. Move flammable items away from the stove or open flames.

Never leave the kitchen during high-heat activities, including boiling or frying. If you need to leave the room but there is no one else around to keep an eye on things, turn off the cooking appliances until you return.


As soon as you are finished cooking, shut off the stove and other appliances. Don’t place anything flammable on a hot surface, for example, hot pads or dish towels. Instead, find a designated spot for them and practice placing them back after each use. 


Roll up baggy sleeves, and avoid wearing loose-fitting clothes that could easily catch fire. Instead, wear something tight fitted, or wear a securely fastened apron.


Keep a class B fire extinguisher or baking soda nearby. Never throw water on a cooking fire, as it can spread grease and oil, feeding the flames.

Circuit Overloads

Bedrooms are prime locations for undetected circuit overloads. The bedroom is one of the most common spots for electrical house fires to start. People leave phones, laptops, and other electrical devices on charge overnight, therefore overheating and overloading power sockets. Faulty or malfunctioning lights and cords can also cause fires, as can electric blankets and space heaters being left on overnight.


Bedroom fires are hazardous and have a higher potential for tragedy because they often start when people are asleep. The first items that usually go up in flames are bedding, curtains, carpets, and other bedroom comforts.


To prevent these fires from starting, ensure loose or unsafe-looking power wall outlets are fixed immediately.

Replace chargers, extension leads, lighting cords, and other power cords as soon as they become less efficient. Employ the golden rule: If you can see wires, you need a replacement. Don’t overload wall outlets by having too many devices, extension leads, or power strips plugged in.


When devices are not in use, unplug them until you need them again. Ensure space heaters are at least 3 ft. away from any flammable materials.

Fireplace Fires

Fireplaces are often an impressive feature of the home’s living room, with their beautiful ornate details serving as a statement piece for the space. However, with these decorative furnishings also comes a lot of maintenance, not just the occasional polishing and dusting of the mantel. If not regularly cleaned and maintained, they have the potential to set alight.


With this in mind, another leading cause of house fires is heating equipment, with local fire departments responding to around 48,530 calls relating to heating system fires during 2014-2018. The NFPA cited chimneys as the heat source most likely to start a fire during this time. 


Besides chimneys and fireplaces, other heat sources contributing to living room fires include space heaters, candles, and wood-burning stoves. However, there are safety precautions you can take to prevent these appliances from starting a fire in your home.


Have your chimney professionally cleaned before the cooler months set in. Keep flammable items, including curtains and upholstered furniture around 3 ft. from your heating equipment.


Install a fireplace screen to stop live embers from escaping. Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure it’s completely put out before leaving your house. Use the recommended fuel to power your heating equipment. You will be able to find this in your manufacturer's guide. However, if not, consult the internet. 


Teach children the importance of fire safety, and enforce the 3 ft. rule to ensure they don’t burn themselves or accidentally ignite something in your home.

Smoking Fires

If smoking being hazardous to your health isn’t enough to turn you off, it is also a leading cause of house fires. Between 2012-2016, smoking was the leading cause of house fire deaths, with one of every 31 smoking material-related fires resulting in death. If cigarette butts fall on carpets, upholstered furniture, curtains, and other flammable materials, a straightforward mistake could lead to a dangerous, out-of-control inferno. 


These fires almost always occur when household residents are asleep, contributing to the higher death rate. With a single carelessly dropped cigarette providing sufficient fuel to ignite and spread an uncontrollable fire, it’s critical to be wary. Before you smoke inside, consider the potentially deadly consequences. To prevent house fires caused by smoking, always try to smoke outdoors


Ensure your cigarette is completely out before leaving your ashtray unattended. Don’t leave lighters, matches, or cigarettes in reach of children.

Prevent a House Fire With These Tips 

Nobody wants to be involved in a house fire. Along with the property devastation and emotional distress, house fires may also set you back thousands of dollars. Not only does a house fire threaten the safety of you and your family members, but it can also destroy sentimental items or heirlooms that are irreplaceable. 


By understanding the leading causes of house fires and how you can prevent them, you’ll be able to protect your family and your personal property more effectively.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eliza Moyer is a highly trained, task oriented disaster relief specialist. Her decades of personal experience and training (including a Master’s degree in Emergency Management) have been bent toward prevention and preparedness for her clients, reducing the casualties and cleanup time needed after disasters.

ELIZA MOYER  //  Emergency Expert

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