Common Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them

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This article comes from The Spruce.

Common Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them

Some of the common causes of house fires are familiar to everyone, while others may surprise you. Identifying and lowering these risks help you lower your chance of house fire, keeping your family and property safer.

Cooking-Related Fires

Cooking fires are among the most common types of house fires, causing around 49 percent of all residential fires.1 They are very often caused by greases that become overheated on a stove or in an oven. Grease is highly flammable when it gets hot enough (about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, on average) and when it reaches that point, it can combust spontaneously, even without direct flame contact. Once grease is ignited, it is very difficult to smother the flames.

Never leave the kitchen unattended when cooking in oil or when cooking a food that produces grease, such as bacon. Most kitchen fires start because when a homeowner leaves food cooking unsupervised on a stove or in an oven. By the time the fire is discovered, it’s usually too late. Thoroughly clean your cookware to prevent grease from building up over time.

Heating Appliances

Home space heaters and baseboard heaters can cause fire when fabrics and other combustibles are left too close to them. Heating and cooling appliances of various types are the second leading cause of residential fires, responsible for over 12 percent of all home fires. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), some 25,000 home fires caused more than 300 deaths in the U.S. each year (2104 to 2016) as a result of space heaters.2

Heaters that require fuel, such as kerosene are especially dangerous, as they can ignite or blow up if not properly watched. Electrical heaters can cause fires if the electrical wiring is faulty, or if draperies or other fabrics overheat when they come in contact with the coils.

Always follow the instructions on any heating device you use, and inspect it regularly to ensure it is in good condition.

Never leave the house with a heater running. Space heaters almost always have instructions warning against unsupervised use, but thousands of house fires each year can be attributed to such appliances left running when homeowners are absent. Make sure flammable materials are kept well away from space heaters.

Electrical Fires

Electrical problems account for about 10 percent of all residential fires, but this type of fire is often deadly, accounting for about 18 percent of deaths due to home fire, according to the NFPA Home Structure Fires report.1 This is likely because electrical fires often ignite in hidden locations and build into major fires before residents are aware of them. And such fires frequently may ignite while residents are sleeping.

Properly installed electrical systems are very safe, with a number of built-in protective features, but old, faulty wiring systems can be susceptible to short circuits and overloading. It’s a good idea to have your wiring checked out by a professional electrician, especially if you live in an older home. And don’t perform your own electrical repairs or improvements unless you understand the principles of electricity and have experience doing such work.

Smoking

Fires from cigarettes and smoking materials cause nearly 600 deaths and over 1,100 injuries each year in the U.S., according to the National Fire Protection Association. While cigarettes and other smoking materials account for only about 5 percent of home fires, these are particularly deadly fires, responsible for about 23 percent of all fire deaths—the single most common cause.4 This is likely because these fires often ignite when a resident falls asleep.

Smoking in bed is especially dangerous, and should always be avoided at all cost. All it takes is a single stray ash to ignite a mattress, blanket, carpet, or piece of clothing. If you must smoke, do it outside whenever possible, or smoke over a sink while using an ashtray to help reduce your fire risk.

Candles

New Year’s Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are the prime time for fires caused by candles. Candles can add a wonderful touch to family dinners and holiday celebration, but always extinguish them before leaving the room. Keep candle flames at least 12 inches from any materials that might ignite. Consider other options for decorative lighting effects; there are very good battery-powered flameless luminaries that are remarkably realistic, right down to flickering in the same way that candles do.

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