The cold weather often means that people are spending more time at home increasing the risk of house fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says there are more than 360,000 home structure fires each year, resulting in about $6-8 billion dollars in damage.
The good news is that the most common causes of household fires are largely preventable. As we begin to flirt with colder weather here in the Valley, now is the time to identify and correct potential fire hazards in your home.
“People don’t think of wiring as a danger, because it’s out of sight behind walls,” says Lorraine Carli of the NFPA. But electrical fires have accounted for more than 50,000 home blazes a year, plus $1.5 billion in property damage. And seemingly innocuous acts, like driving screws into a wall to hang a mirror, can easily pierce wiring.
One good fix: Replace circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters (about $30). These safeguards detect dangerous electrical arcs—abnormal sparks that signal bad insulation or loose connections—and stop them before they start a fire.
The number one source of house fires is cooking – usually leaving pots or pans unattended on the stove while you run away to do something for “just a minute.” In fact, over 40% of all house fires begin in the kitchen.
Create (and maintain) a 3-foot zone between combustible materials (paper towels, pot holders, recipes cards) and the burners. And, of course, never leave cooking unattended.
Other kitchen tips:
- Don’t throw water on a grease fire, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire.
- If an oven fire flares up, turn off the oven and leave the door shut until the fire extinguishes itself.
- Keep clothing, pot holders, paper towels and other flammable items away from fires.
Clothes dryer fires happen more often than one might think and the risk is about the same for both gas and electric-powered dryers. The most frequent causes of fires in dryers are lint/dust and clothing. Even if you diligently empty the lint catch every time you dry clothes, the very flammable particles still build up inside the dryer cabinet. To minimize the risk, hire a professional to clean the cabinet and the pipes at least every two years.
- Clean the lint screen frequently and don’t run the dryer without it.
- For gas and propane dryers, make sure there aren’t any leaks in the lines.
- Vent the dryer to the outside of the house and ensure nothing blocks the vent pipe.
- Clean the vent pipe and the area where the screen is housed.
- Keep the area around the dryer free of combustible materials.
The blades inside electrical outlets loosen over time, something you may notice when you plug in an appliance and the cord falls out easily. A seemingly small annoyance can generate a lot of intense heat and lead to a fire. Your best bet is to replace outlets as soon as you notice that plugs don’t fit snugly.
While vintage appliances add charm to a home and may still run well, they were made according to antiquated safety codes and may include frayed or damaged wires. Have them rewired, and, in general, stick with modern equipment that comes with a UL mark, signifying that Underwriters Laboratories has vouched for the item’s safety in actual use.
While candles add ambiance, warmth, and fragrance to a home, keep in mind that there over 29 candle fires per day in the United States.
About one-third of these fires started in bedrooms and more than half of all candle fires start because of candles that were left too close to flammable items. They should always be kept at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn and never be left unattended. Those of us fortunate enough to have animals in our homes must be aware that a pet brushing up against a flame is enough to spark a fire.
Need another reason to quit? While the number of fires caused by smoking is trending downward along with the habit itself, smoking still accounts for a significant percentage of household blazes.
From the moment a fire starts to the point where the structure is fully engulfed is usually less than two minutes, which is why prevention is so important.
Please take the necessary precautions to protect your family and home. Always have working (and regularly tested) smoke detectors in your house and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.
Have a fire safety tip to share? Please leave a comment below.