A small home fire is a distressing event, while a large one can cause a devastating loss of life and property. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there were nearly 365,000 home fires in 2016.
Unfortunately, there are many items inside most homes that can easily ignite a home fire and some are not as obvious as you might think.
While your homeowner’s insurance may cover fire damage, it is important to learn all the places that a fire could start inside your home and take care of any possible risk factors to avoid losing irreplaceable items and mementos. Here are eight items that can cause a fire in your home and how you can reduce the risk of these setting your house or apartment on fire.
The USFA states that just over 50 percent of all residential building fires are caused by the tools and actions of cooking. Because cooking is something most of us do daily, it is easy to become complacent about kitchen safety and accidentally create scenarios that create the potential for house fires.
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Always stay in the kitchen while cooking, as pans can splatter and overheat quickly, catching on fire. Keep anything combustible, things that easily catch fire, away from heat sources. This includes dish towels, paper towels, oven mitts and stacks of mail. For the same reason, do not wear long, loose sleeves while cooking. Also, remember that your kitchen stove or oven should never be used to heat your home.
When grilling outdoors, keep your barbecue grill at least 10 feet away from exterior walls and deck railings. Never grill under eaves or a covered porch. Instead, place your grill in an open area without overhanging tree branches.
Due to an overall decline in smoking, falling asleep with a lit cigarette is not as common a cause of house fires as it used to be. However, these common items remain a real fire risk. Make sure all matches and cigarette butts are fully extinguished before placing them inside a trash can. Better yet, only smoke outdoors and stub out cigarettes and matches in a can filled with sand.
Children are often curious about fire and may try to experiment with matches or lighters when you are not looking. It is best to lock up lighters, matches, cigarettes and other smoking items when they are not in use.
Even if you don’t smoke, you probably have matches and lighters on hand to light candles. If so, then keep them out of the reach of children. If you buy lighters for lighting candles, then choose designs that include childproof features. It is never safe to leave a lit candle unattended, so blow out any candles before leaving the room. Always place lit candles on a sturdy surface and place them beyond the reach of children and pets.
As with cooking appliances, you should keep clothing, furniture, curtains and other flammable materials several feet away from any heating source. This includes electric-powered space heaters, kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Never use your heaters as drying racks for clothing or shoes and keep rugs at least three feet away from open fireplaces.
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Schedule routine cleaning and maintenance checks for any chimneys or woodstove pipes in your home. When these become clogged, they pose a serious unseen fire risk. Also, make sure you have a sturdy fireplace screen to keep logs and embers from rolling out. It should also have a fine enough mesh to prevent sparks from flying out into the room.
Children are often fascinated by fire. For this reason, kids must be taught from a young age that fire is a tool, not a toy. Keep matches and lighters in a locked cabinet, particularly if you have seen signs that your child has been experimenting with fire. Look for burning odors coming from their room, singed or melted toys or paper. If you find matches or lighters hidden in your child’s room, then address the situation promptly and explain how it takes less than 30 seconds for a flame to expand beyond control.
Most people know to examine electric appliances for frayed cords or bent plugs but many do not think about the risks of overloading an outlet with too many appliances. When purchasing used appliances or lamps, have old cords and plugs replaced by a professional electrician. Even if they are not excessively frayed, older cords can heat up to levels that create a fire risk, especially if fabric or paper comes in contact with the cord or outlet.
Overusing extension cords or connecting multiple extension cords can also cause a fire risk. Never run electrical cords or extension cords under rugs or heavy furniture. Do not use old extension cords, and make sure any new extension cords are adequate for the size of the appliance you plan to connect to them.
If you live in an older home, then its wiring may be putting you at a higher risk of a home fire. Warning signs of faulty electric wiring include the following:
If you notice any of these warning signs, then it is probably time to replace the home’s wiring. Old home wiring can also decrease the value of your home if you are planning on selling it. You must be particularly cautious about overloading outlets in an older house or apartment while you wait to have it repaired. Never attempt to replace a home’s wiring by yourself. You always hire a licensed electrician.
Most households have some type of flammable liquid to store, such as fuels, paints, adhesives and certain cleaning products. The vapors from these products can ignite easily and do not require a flame to catch fire. Even a spark of static electricity or extremely high temperatures can be the source of a flammable liquids fire. These fluids should be stored in approved containers, outside the home in a cool and well-ventilated area.
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