In 2015, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires caused an estimated $7 billion in property damage. More than 11,000 injuries and 2,650 deaths were attributed to home fires that year. Home fires can be caused by faulty wiring, lightning, carelessness, wild fires, and many other reasons. Although home fires are not always preventable, there are steps every homeowner can take to minimize the risk, and to minimize damage and injury in case a fire does break out.
Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fires; followed by heating equipment, electrical wiring, intentional fires, and smoking materials. Kitchen blazes tie with heating as the second leading cause of home fire deaths. Smoke and fumes are every bit as deadly as flames; in fact, more deaths are caused by smoke inhalation than by burns.
Knowing what to do in case of a fire can go a long way toward minimizing injury and preventing death. And always call the fire department immediately if you smell smoke or fumes, or see flames.
How to Prevent a Fire in Your Home
First, make sure your home or apartment has smoke alarms installed. Local building codes often specify where they are to be placed, but if you have any questions, your local fire department should be able to guide you. Alarms, which can be “hard-wired” or battery-operated, provide an effective early warning system that can save lives and prevent property damage.
Here are 10 precautions to keep you and your family safe:
- Never ignore an alarm. Test your individual smoke alarms regularly, and replace batteries before they lose their effectiveness. Never remove a battery from an alarm that malfunctions. Replace the entire alarm instead.
- Hold family “fire drills”. Develop a plan that even young children can follow if a smoke alarm sounds. Also teach children that water will not put out all fires.
- Invest in fire extinguishers for at least the kitchen, garage and basement. Know that they must be inspected and recharged periodically. Instruct family members about their proper use and what types of fires to use them on.
- Be aware of your cooking habits. Keep your entire kitchen clean and eliminate unnecessary clutter. Never leave the room while food is cooking. Check the cords on your small appliances and use them only for their intended purpose. Unplug them when not in use. Take stock of anything in the kitchen that is flammable. Never store pressurized cans near heat.
- Never leave candles burning when you’re out of the room. Always place a candle in a non-flammable holder or on a glass surface. Always keep matches and fire-starters away from children.
- Be wary of space heaters, portable air conditioners, or anything that needs to be plugged in for an extended period of time. Look for automatic shut-offs on such items; unplug them when not in use.
- Never overload your electrical circuits; don’t use extension cords or plug adapters for permanent power to a lamp, small appliance or computer. Don’t be tempted to run extension cords under rugs or in pathways. Install GFCI circuits or plugs in kitchens, baths, and wet areas.
- Monitor your pets! Curious animals can cause problems by chewing wires or knocking things over.
- Leave the house, rather than attempting to fight a fire by yourself. Make sure your address is visible both during daylight hours and at night. Post your address numbers both street side and at an alley entrance. Help your fire department by placing a distinctive sticker on bedroom windows, especially in second-story children’s rooms.
- Consider installing ceiling sprinklers, if you’re building new or remodeling. In areas where they are required, up to 96 percent of home fires are commonly extinguished before the fire department arrives.
Take effective steps to prevent fires, but also know how and when to take action.