October is Fire Prevention Month and there’s no better time to talk about fire safety and prevention. With the colder weather comes additional risk as fireplaces and heating systems are used more. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 1,345,500 fires reported in the United States. Fires can have devastating effects on a home and its occupants. Last year, fires caused an estimated $10.3 billion in property damage. Do you know how to protect your home from fire dangers?
Top Causes of House Fires
Cooking-related fires account for 45% of home fires. Unsurprisingly, the biggest day of the year for fires in the kitchen is Thanksgiving. (And you thought your relatives were the biggest thing to avoid.) Most cooking fires happen when a range or cooktop is left unattended.
What you can do:
- Never leave cooking equipment unattended.
- Turn the handles and pans away from you when cooking on a range. This can prevent others from catching the handles of pots and pats.
- Keep clothing, oven mitts, and anything flammable away from the stove top when in use.
- If a grease fire starts, smother the flame rather than dousing it with water. The easiest way to do this is to cover with a lid. Avoid opening windows when flames are present since air feeds fires.
- Keep a fire extinguisher somewhere close. Since kitchen fires are the most common, it’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink or in a pantry.
2. Heating Systems
These types of fires begin in the cold winter months when heating systems are used more. Space heaters, while convenient, can also be risky if they aren’t properly used. Before you use your fireplace, heating system, or space heater for the first time, be sure to keep these tips in mind:
- Have centralized heating systems cleaned and inspected by a professional. Each system has manufacturer’s guidelines, so refer to them for a recommended maintenance schedule.
- Always turn off space heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Keep children away from space heaters and fireplaces.
- Clean fireplaces once a year and make sure that there is a screen or grate in place. This can prevent embers from escaping.
3. Lighting and Electrical Wiring
Frayed and faulty wiring can lead to catastrophe, and they may happen more frequently than you think. The best ways to manage your risk is by doing the following:
- Don’t overload outlets.
- Use the recommended wattage for overhead lights.
- If you see a frayed wire, replace it immediately.
- Consider using tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles if there are children in the home. These can prevent injury in cases where a child sticks a toy into the outlet. The 2014 National Electrical Code requires them in new or renovated properties.
- Make sure that your building is up to code.
Unfortunately, intentional fires are not uncommon. Arson and playing with fire takes a different strategy when it comes to prevention. While you may not always be able to prevent it, you can still do your part to make sure that your property will sustain the least amount of damage. Here’s how you can protect your home:
- Remove dead shrubbery from the yard, and keep woodpiles away from the sides of the house. These materials can feed a fire, which is why cleaning up your yard can keep fires from spreading.
- Report suspicious activity to the police.
- Get to know your neighbors. Find out who lives near you, and introduce yourself. If you really want to earn some brownie points, take a look at our article 4 Tips for Being a Good Neighbor.
- Secure vacant buildings. If your rental property is vacant, make sure that the entry points are securely locked. Check in on the property frequently and maintain the exterior. An abandoned building can be a target for vandalism and arson.
- Screen tenants. Criminal background checks are part of the application process for most landlords and property managers. If you’re concerned about crime at your property, we have some prevention tips in our article How to Reduce Property Crime.
Smoking is not only an unhealthy habit, but it has the added risk of starting a fire. Lighters, matches, and lit cigarettes should be treated with care. To reduce the risk, remember these tips:
- Never smoke in bed.
- Smoke outside. Have a deep ashtray handy in your designated smoking area.
- Always put out cigarette and cigar butts f completely. Dispose of them in an ashtray to prevent stray embers from drifting.
- Keep cigarettes and lighters out of reach of children.
Other Factors & Causes
In no particular order, we’ve rounded up other major contributors to be aware of.
- Candles – The biggest month for candle fires is December, so be aware of the danger when decorating for the holidays.
- Alcohol – Impaired senses and reflexes can lead to unwise decisions, especially when it comes to fire. Take care when lighting candles and fireplaces when setting the mood at a party if you’ve had a few.
- Fireworks – Fireworks are very popular in the summertime when heat can lead to drier landscapes and increased dangers of wildfires. Observe your state’s laws and never light fireworks in areas where a fire ban is in effect.
- Unattended Children – The allure of matches is hard to resist, so keep kids from experimenting by keeping incendiary materials out of reach and keeping an eye on young children. Instruct older children on the dangers of flaming mishaps and show them how to properly extinguish a fire.
General Fire Safety Rules
1. Make sure that every member of your household knows at least two ways to escape from the property. Practice exiting the home in the event of an emergency and choose a safe meet up place away from the building.
2. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home near sleeping areas.
3. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries yearly.
4. Know how to properly use a fire extinguisher. Remember to PASS:
- Pull the extinguisher pin as you point the nozzle away from you.
- Aim towards the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever slowly.
- Sweep the extinguisher nozzle side to side.
5. Teach everyone to STOP, DROP, and ROLL in case clothing catches on fire.
You can never be too prepared for an emergency situation. Talk about safety with your family, and keep it in mind when considering home maintenance and repairs.