This past weekend we celebrated the 4th of July! We went to a local fireworks display put on by a local municipality and had a fantastic time. On July 5th, I got a call from a friend to catch up. She said she was woken up at 4:00am to a number of fire trucks rumbling down her street to put out a house fire two doors down. Unfortunately, the house burned to the ground. Luckily, all of the individuals in the house were able to get out and weren’t injured physically, but all of their belongings were gone.
Her husband who loves fireworks thought they were shooting off fireworks a little big for an in-the-city neighborhood earlier in the evening. My friend doesn’t know the cause of the fire. Her best guess was that they put something smouldering into the trash can that escalated over night.
I can’t imagine living through a house fire, and I’m guessing you can’t either. Not only would it be a significant emotional event, but also a huge financial event. Here are things to do to minimize the risk of a house fire happening to your home, and also what you can do to minimize the impact if one were to happen to you.
Common Causes of House Fires
- Kitchen and Barbeques
The most common cause of a kitchen or barbeque fire is grease. I get barbecues are outside, and might not lead to an entire house fire; however, having any fire on our property is a hassle and could be dangerous to people, so I wanted to include it!
Kitchen ovens need to be cleaned at least once every three months, if not more frequently (i.e. when there is a spill or cheese falls and burns – I feel like this always happens right after I clean it!). Also, cleaning out the oven hood vent is important to do at the same time!
If you have a barbeque or a smoker (we live in Kansas City, so the land of the smoker!), it’s important to thoroughly clean them as well. If you use either of these things at least once a week, clean the grates thoroughly once a month and the entire unit at the beginning and middle of each cooking season. If you barbeque or use a smoker year round, once a quarter is a best practice for a thorough cleaning.
If you’re not sure how to thoroughly, deep clean your oven or barbeque, I recommend following GoCleanCo on Instagram. They post videos and tips all of the time, and they have a cleaning handbook that includes information if you are wanting all of the details to thoroughly clean these items. I love GoCleanCo’s tip about throwing the grates in hot water with dish tabs and letting them sit for a while. It’s saved me from having to scrub several items, and I’ve saved a few pans and grates using this tip of theirs!
- Portable Heaters
Our basement can be cold in the winter, I understand the interest for a space heater; however, this is the number two most common reason for a house fire. If you choose to use a portable heater, be sure to understand the space requirements of the unit and ensure that no items are within that radius. Also, only have the heater on if you are in the space. There is no reason to be heating a space that isn’t being used!
Better than using a portable heater is remedying the issue. In the winter months, open air vents in the basement (or lowest level of your house) and close them upstairs (heat rises!), then you may save yourself the hassle and cost of having to do anything. This causes the heater to push air to the lowest level and then it rises to heat upper levels of the home. Also, having extra lap blankets (or quilts! – remember Dr. Thia is an avid quilter) is much safer than using a portable heater.
- Electrical Fires
We purchased a home that is almost 30 years old. We’ve been replacing one light fixture after another. I think we’ve almost changed every single one in the house over the four years that we’ve lived here. While it updates the feel of the space, it also is a safety thing. We took down the light in the girls’ closet and there was definitely evidence of a potential fire issue, as the insulation between the light and ceiling was charred; Why it was even there, I’ll never know.
Electrical fires are scary, because it’s hard to see what’s going on behind the walls; however, this is why a home inspection is important when you purchase a new home. If you’ve been in your home a significant number of years, or your home is an older home, it may be prudent to have an electrical inspection done. The Electrical Safety Foundation International indicates that approximately 51,000 electrical fires occur annually. So, staying on top of ensuring the electrical in your home is safe, is important to maintaining the property.
While smoking isn’t a healthy habit, it is also a dangerous one, too. While house fires caused by smoking only accounts for about 5% of home fires, it is the most deadly type of house fire. This is because individuals fall asleep or leave burning cigarettes unattended, and then smouldering ash catches something in the space on fire, whether it be carpet, blankes, or other flammable materials.
Smoking related deaths are caused because the smoker fails to wake up in time to exit the area. Therefore, a best practice is to never leave a cigarette unattended or fall asleep while one is lit. Also, minimizing flammable items in the areas in which you smoke is prudent as well.
I’ll say it – I have candles in my house, so there is no finger pointing going on! I enjoy using them from time to time. They aren’t actually the healthiest, and they clearly aren’t the safest if they’re on this list. However, it can make a space feel more cozy quickly, and they can be handy if there is a power outage after dark.
However, candles are one of the most common causes of home fires. So, be careful where you light them – not near curtains or other flammable materials. Having ones that are enclosed instead of candle sticks can be a bit safer, because there is no dripping hot wax. Don’t leave them lit and unattended. If you could use a candle warmer (no open flame, and an auto-off functions) make them safer than a burning candle, or better yet use wicking sticks or something for fresh scent, you are minimizing the risk of a house fire happening.
- Christmas Trees
It has been a tradition of ours for years to enjoy fresh Christmas Trees. There is something about the smell that makes the house ready for the holiday season. The good news is that the Christmas Tree fires are much less common than the other fire risks on this list; however, it is important to take extra precaution with Christmas Trees.
Take time to make sure light strings are fully encased without exposed wires – especially where the bulb joins into the string. Using timers to turn off the tree lights is a smart idea, to ensure there isn’t a fire at night when you are likely sleeping. Keeping real trees watered, so they stay as hydrated as possible also minimizes the risk of fire.
I felt like this needed to be on the list because it is the inspiration for this post! This year alone, the Kansas City Fire Department reported 5 house fires and 15 trash can fires from fireworks. That is the number that they were called about. My guess is there could be additional trash can fires that were not reported.
I have to be honest that fireworks are not my favorite. They can go wrong quickly, especially the bigger, and younger a group of people are. We’ve all likely witnessed people playing with roman candles in dangerous ways. We enjoy a few smoke bombs and our oldest loves the little white snappers that you throw and they pop against the cement, but other than that, we leave it to the professionals.
If you choose to shoot off fireworks, be careful to shoot them away from structures. This ensures that sparks and smouldering material don’t hit the roofs. When cleaning up, submerge firework material into water and leave them to sit overnight. This ensures they won’t set your trash on fire.
Protecting Yourself and Home From Fire
In the above section, there are a lot of common sense ways to protect yourself from a house fire. Be attentive. Minimize the use of open flames. Keep your spaces clean. There are a few additional things to consider.
- Replace Fire Detectors Every 10 Years
Fire detectors are not supposed to last forever. In fact, they only have a ten year lifespan. If you’re reading this and have lived in your home 15 years and have never replaced your fire detectors, this is your sign to replace them! If you have just moved into a home and have no idea how old the fire detectors are, this is your sign to replace them!
If they start beeping for new batteries, replace them quickly – I know this is an easy one because that beeping is annoying!
- Have Fire Extinguishers in Accessible Areas
Fire extinguishers are good to have, because minimizing the loss if a fire starts is good. However, call the fire department immediately, so help is on it’s way if you can’t get the item put out. Keeping an extinguisher in the places (laundry room, kitchen, garage near barbeque) where a fire might start is a good idea. Make sure the fire extinguisher you have is within it’s lifespan – most last 5 to 15 years. I gave these as Christmas gifts last year to people that I love, and they were received with much more enthusiasm than I expected!
- Have Fire Escape Ladders in Rooms on the Second Floor
We have a two story house. In each of the upstairs closets is an escape ladder. If we have a fire in the middle of the night, I don’t want to have to tie sheets together to get out of the house safely with two little kids. My mom gifted me one when I was in college, and the collection has slowly grown over time. They’re not glamorous to purchase, but if I ever needed one I would be thankful I spent the $40 to have one!
- Clean Lint from Dryer
I’m surprised that fires from dryer lint aren’t a common house fire cause; however, lint is combustible. This means that lint itself can start a fire if the conditions are right. This is why cleaning out the lint in a dryer is important, and is one of the items we included in our Spring Cleaning Guide. Taking time once a year to pull the dryer out and clean out the back of the dryer is a smart move to minimize house fire risk.
- Know Your Escape Routes and Have Important Documents Easy to Grab on the Way Out
We hope to never have a fire, and if you’ve followed along this far, you have lots of tips to minimize your house fire risk! However, there is still a chance life could happen! A good practice is to have important documents in a fireproof safe or in a fire retardant bag, that you could grab on your way out of the home. In stressful situations, having thought ahead about how you would get out of your home, and different contingencies can make a difference.
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