In less than two minutes after a fire starts, it can become life-threatening, and in just five minutes, a home can become completely engulfed in flames.1 But flames aren't the only threat you can face in a house fire. The heat and smoke can be even more dangerous to you and your family than the fire itself. In fact, three times more people die from suffocation than from burns.1 Breathing in toxic fumes and poisonous gases can confuse you, making it more difficult for you to escape in an emergency. The super-heated air can also scorch your lungs when you breathe it in.
The good news is you can prevent your home from going up in flames by practicing smart fire safety. Most fires in the home start through carelessness, so knowing what causes the most common home fires can help you prevent them from ever starting.
Cooking causes almost half of all home fires in the United States - earning it the No. 1 reason for residential fires.2
Leaving food unattended while cooking is by far the biggest factor, and frying is the most dangerous cooking method. Residential fire rates can more than double on Thanksgiving.3 How to Reduce Your Risk:
- Always stay in the kitchen or by the grill when you're cooking. Never leaving cooking food unattended is the single best way to prevent fires, especially if you're frying, boiling, or broiling.
- If you have to leave the room, turn off the burner.
- Keep flammable materials like towels, curtains, oven mitts, wooden utensils, and food packaging away from the cooking areas.
- Keep a metal lid handy to smother grease fires - never put water on a grease fire, it will explode!
- Get out of the house as fast as you can if there is a fire - then call 911. More than half of non-fatal cooking fire injuries occur when homeowners try to put out the fire on their own.3
- Keep your fire alarm on while you're cooking - never disable it.
Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
While cooking is the leading cause of home fires, smoking is the No. 1 cause of fire deaths in the United States - responsible for 19 percent of home structure fire deaths.4
Most of those killed were in the bedroom, living room, and den when mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, and/or trash caught fire from either a tobacco product or lighter. How to Reduce Your Risk:
- If you smoke, do it outside.
- Smoke only "fire-safe" cigarettes, which stop burning when they're left unattended. All 50 states require cigarettes to be fire-safe, however cigars are not.
- Use deep and wide ashtrays and be sure they're on sturdy tables. Pour water over used cigarettes to fully extinguish them.
- Never light up when you're sleepy or under the influence. You should always remain alert when you're smoking.
3. Heating Equipment
We have to heat our homes, but improper use of equipment can be dangerous. Most home heating fires happen on winter evenings. Space heaters cause two of every five fires and another one-third are caused by fireplaces or chimneys.5 How to Reduce Your Risk:
- If you must use a space heater, keep it at least three feet away from anything flammable, including bedding, mattresses, clothing, and upholstered furniture - that's the biggest factor in heating fire deaths.
- Make sure children stay at least three feet away from space heaters and open fires.
- Turn portable heaters off when you leave the room or go to sleep. Don't keep them on all night.
- Always use a screen in front of your fireplace, and have your chimney professionally cleaned annually. Douse any fire or coals at night before you go to sleep or if you leave the house.
- Never heat your home with your oven.
4. Electrical Problems
In 2014, more than 500 people were killed by electrical fires in the United States.6
Faulty wiring, outdated appliances, and malfunctioning lighting equipment can all play a part in electrical fires. How to Reduce Your Risk:
- Always hire licensed electrical professionals to do electrical work in your home. Don't do the work yourself.
- Plug major appliances like refrigerators, washers, and dryers directly into wall outlets instead of using extension cords or power strips.
- All outdoor, bathroom, kitchen, garage, and basement outlets should be protected with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which cut off electrical circuits when they become shock hazards.
- Don't overload outlets, especially with heat-producing appliances like toasters and space heaters. Plug only one of those into an outlet at a time.
- Never exceed the maximum wattage on light fixtures.
- Call an electrician right away if you notice potential electrical problems, like frequent blown fuses, discolored, warm, or sparking outlets, or burning smells coming from appliances.
As much as you might love lighting up a candle, consider this: Between 2009 and 2013, candles were responsible for 9,300 home fires, causing $374 million in property damage in the U.S.7
About a third of these fires started in the bedroom, and half of them were simply because something was left too close to the flame and caught fire.7 How to Reduce Your Risk:
- Always blow out candles when you leave the room or go to sleep.
- Never leave kids alone in a room with a burning candle.
- Keep candles at least a foot away from anything that's flammable.
- Consider using flameless, battery-operated candles. You can even get ones with aromas.
- Use flashlights instead of candles if your power goes out.
Nobody ever thinks they'll be the victim of a home fire, but when you realize how easily - and quickly - it happens, you can change your behaviors so your family will be protected and remain safe.