10 Most Common Causes of House Fires

According to the NFPA (http://www.nfpa.org), there are between 350,000 and 400,000 house fires in the U.S. every year and this results in almost $8 billion in annual damages.  Those are some scary statistics especially for those of us with families to protect.  One of the best things we can do is educated ourselves and our families on what the common causes of fires are and then look for ways to reduce our exposure to the greatest extent possible.  There are some causes of fires beyond our control (arson, etc.).  We did our best to include the most controllable/manageable and yet common reasons of fires in the following list:

  • Cooking – According to the National Fire Protection Association 40 percent of all house fires are caused by cooking related incidents.  For instance, an oven or stove left unattended.  Recently, my family experienced this directly when my sister did exactly that.  She was cooking and left the kitchen to take care of one of the kids that was stirring up trouble and when she came back she was fortunate enough to be able to put out a fire before it spread too far beyond the cupboards.
  • Kids playing with fire – Another very common cause of fires that we all hear of fairly frequently is kids playing with matches or a lighter and not fully comprehending the risks they are taking.  It’s really important to be sure to teach your kids about fire safety and the reasons why they should not play with fire.  Of course, supervision is incredibly important as well but we can’t be all places at the same time so be sure to educate them via books, videos, and any other ways available to you (visit the local fire station, etc.).
  • Smoking – We all probably remember laughing at a relative that was falling asleep in their favorite chair back in the day with really long ashes on their lit cigarette, maybe they jumped a little as the ashes fell on them.  Well, this can be somewhat humorous when someone else is watching but in general it is just extremely dangerous.  The best thing you could do is shake them and ask them what their problem is and if they actually WANT to burn the whole house down.
  • Heating – This is a common problem every Winter especially if people don’t get their furnace serviced on a regular basis.  I know this from experience as I’ll never forget our early morning scare with smoke throughout the house and us running around grabbing the kids and heading for the exits.  Fortunately, it was just smoke for us but we haven’t missed a furnace checkup since.  A related and more common cause of heating related fires are small space heaters (electrical or fueld-based).  These can lead to all kinds of possible problems including a short and/or electrical overload problem.
  • Electrical – speaking of electrical problems, they are another very common cause of house fires.  One of the leading culprits is the over-use of extension cords.  Surprisingly just because there is an open plug doesn’t mean you can plug just ANYTHING into it.  They can actually only safely pull so many watts so be sure to be very aware of the safe amount you can plug into any extension or extension cord.  If there is ever a doubt, you are probably much better off to hire an electrician to provide you with permanent wiring.  It is also very adviseable to have an electrician perform an annual checkup on your home’s wiring.
  • Candles – they can be romantic, set the mood, or simply just a practical and cheap way to provide light (especially in a power outage).  However, for some reason we tend to forget that it is an open flame and that we shouldn’t just leave lit candles unattended (say after dinner, you wander off for a nap and leave the dinner candle lit).  This is another great example of common sense and blowing out the candles immediately after they are needed should be made into a ritual, after all it could save your life.
  • Fireplace – this is an obvious source of problems but probably not for the same reasons you are thinking.  Common problems with fireplaces range from unattended fires to improper servicing of the fireplace (not cleaning it and letting the chimney get backed up).  Another example is just not opening up the damper/flue and causing smoke damage to the home.  It’s also important to not cook in the fireplace (it’s not a camp fire) and to be careful of any kindling or fire starting products.
  • Dryers – There have been reports of dryer sheets that could lead to fires in the laundry area but it is far more common for improper dryer vents and venting to be the cause of a dryer related fire.  It’s also incredibly important to stay on top of clearing lint away from the dryer (under it, on top of it, behind it, etc.).  Treat this has highly flammable material and just keep your dryer well maintained.  Here is another great article on this subject: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/laundry-and-cleaning/clothes-dryers/truths-and-myths-of-dryer-fires/overview/index.htm.
  • Flammables in the House – there are a lot of products left around the home that are highly flammable (especially if the garage is attached to the home).  Be careful of where you place any flammable materials (fuels, oils, etc.).  Don’t place them next to a possible source of a fire as they can rapidly turn a bad situation into a disaster.  The simplest rule is to keep them contained and a away from the home to the greatest extent possible.
  • Christmas trees – it seems like nothing really sets the holiday mood like a live Christmas tree (great smell and just exceptionally authentic).  However, if you don’t keep it well watered and still proceed to wrap it with electrical cords (I mean… Christmas lights of course).  If you let it get too dry it can quickly result in a fire so just check it frequently and leave the lights off if you are going to be away from home for a while (I know you like looking at the lights when you walk in the door at night but better to have a door to walk into than see the pretty lights).

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