Fire Dangers Around The Home

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Few things can match the terror of smelling smoke, then realizing there is a fire in your home. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 365,500 residential fires are reported to fire departments each year, with an estimated 3,500 deaths, 18,300 injuries and $7.4 billion in property loss. With such sobering numbers, it is important to take steps to prevent your own home from becoming a statistic.

While not every house fire can be prevented, your risk factors can be drastically lowered by avoiding the major fire dangers in the home.

Home Fires In the Kitchen

Cooking is the number one cause of house fires, implicated in 45% of reported events. Keep your kitchen safe by following simple safety rules.

  • Plug microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into the electrical outlet. Do not use an extension cord for any appliance that generates heat.
  • Never leave the kitchen with food frying, grilling or broiling. Grease or oil can ignite and start a quick-spreading fire.
  • If you are roasting, baking or simmering food, check the stove frequently and set a timer so you don’t forget to turn the oven off.
  • Don’t cook or use heated appliances if you are drowsy, taking medication that affects your alertness, or are drinking alcohol.
  • Never wear long, dangly sleeves while cooking, or any clothing that could drag across the lit burners.
  • Be careful that potholders, dishtowels, paper towels and other kitchen items are kept away from the stove.
  • Keep a close eye on children and pets in the kitchen.
  • If a grease fire starts while you are cooking, immediately cover the pan and turn off the burner. Don’t pour water on a grease fire.

home fire dangers  home fire dangers

Home Fires Caused By Smoking

Cigarettes are the number one cause of death in household fires. If you cannot kick the smoking habit altogether, be sure to avoid putting yourself at risk of a house fire.

  • Never smoke in bed, especially if you are very tired.
  • Use ashtrays, and stub cigarettes out thoroughly. Don’t dispose of butts in the trash where they can smolder.
  • Don’t set an ashtray on the carpet or upholstered furniture. A dropped cigarette butt can quickly ignite those materials.
  • Keep lighters out of the reach of children.
  • If you use matches to light your cigarettes, douse the match under water before throwing it in the trash.

Home Fires Caused By Space Heaters, Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

Heaters are the most common cause of house fires during the winter months. Keep your home warm, but keep it safe when using a heater.

  • Space heaters should always be plugged into an electrical outlet, never an extension cord.
  • Do not leave a space heater running unattended.
  • Maintain a safety zone of at least three feet between a space heater and anything that could potentially ignite, including papers, clothing, upholstery, drapes or flammable cleaning supplies.
  • Watch children and pets carefully when any type of heater is in use.
  • When using your fireplace, make sure the fire is completely extinguished before leaving the house or going to sleep.
  • Make sure the damper is open before starting a fire, and have the fireplace cleaned periodically to avoid buildup of creosote.
  • Don’t burn paper, green wood or trash in your fireplace.
  • Keep a fire screen in front of your fireplace, but keep glass fireplace doors open while the fire is burning.
  • Wood stoves should be inspected for cracks, instability or worn hinges each month. The pipes and chimney should be cleaned annually.
  • Burn only seasoned wood in your stove, not green wood, paper or trash.
  • Keep the air inlets on your stove open during use.
  • There should be at least three feet of clearance between your wood burning stove and nearby objects.

Home Electrical Fires

Electrical fires account for more than 26,000 house fires each year. Most electrical fires start due to old wiring or improperly repaired or damaged electrical outlets. If you live in an older home, be especially careful to not overload electrical outlets.

  • Do not use electrical devices with frayed, cracked or broken cords.
  • Don’t overload your electrical outlets, or plug in multiple extension cords.
  • Have an electrician check any outlet or switch that feels warm during use.
  • If your circuits frequently trip, the lighting tends to dim or flicker, or outlets become brown and discolored, call an electrician to check your home’s wiring systems.
  • Never run cords under rugs, furniture or bedding.
  • Use the recommended wattage light bulbs in your lamps and light fixtures.
  • Many electrical devices generate heat. These include video game systems, computers, televisions and stereos. Make sure there is room for air circulation around any of these devices.
  • Clothes dryers are a particular source of house fires. Do not leave your dryer running while you are not home or are sleeping. Clean the lint collector after every use, and have the vents cleaned annually.

Fire Dangers Outside the Home

The outside of your home is a frequent source of fire hazards.

  • Keep fallen leaves and other debris off your roof. Clean out your rain gutters seasonally.
  • Keep shrubs and trees pruned, and rake up fallen leaves.
  • Remove dead trees or shrubs.
  • Trim away tree limbs that hang over the chimney. There should be at least ten feet between the chimney and any nearby trees.
  • Don’t store large piles of firewood right next to your home or in the garage.
  • Flammable liquids should not be stored near a water heater or any other heat source.

Holiday Fire Dangers

The holiday season brings a new round of fire hazards. More than 400 people die each year during the holiday season due to house fires.

  • Christmas trees are a major source of fires. Choose a fresh tree and keep its water bowl filled. Dispose of the tree as soon as the holidays are over.
  • Decorate with lights that are approved for outdoor use and certified by a testing laboratory.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets with extension cords powering your light displays.

General Fire Safety

  • Have an escape route planned in case of a house fire, and make sure everyone in your home knows what to do.
  • Keep a working smoke alarm near the kitchen, by each bedroom and on each floor of the house. Check the batteries every six months, whenever you change the clocks for daylight savings.
  • Purchase a fire extinguisher and make sure you know how to use it.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended.

Your home should never become a statistic. Keep fire hazards in mind, and keep your family safe.

Last Updated: June 7, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening and home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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