This week we are featuring Kevin Coutino as a guest blogger. Coutino is a freelance writer for Crime Prevention Security Systems, an Orlando home security company. In his free time, Coutino enjoys reading, traveling and watching sports on TV.
A few years ago, my friend’s home was completely destroyed by a fire while she was away on vacation. She came home to find nearly everything she owned reduced to ash. We sifted through the rubble saving what little we could, but it took her months to rebuild her home and replace possessions. To help avoid similar losses in your life, familiarize yourself with these most common causes of household fires and how to prevent them.
As something we do every day, it’s easy to take the fire risks of cooking for granted. Still, it’s the number one cause of household fires in the United States. When pots or pans overheat, they can crack, releasing their contents onto the heating element and causing substantial fires in mere moments. The other big risk is cooking oil. It can splatter from the pan and immediately ignite on the heating element. This often leads people to panic and try to quickly pull the pan away, potentially spilling even more oil onto the fire. Don’t be distracted or leave pots and pans unattended while cooking. Keep towels, oven mitts, paper towels and other combustible materials well clear of the stove. In the event of a grease fire, do not put water on it. That will just cause the fire to spread. Use baking soda or an ABC-class fire extinguisher to put it out. If you’re unable to put it out immediately, call the fire department.
Every winter, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of stories of people losing their homes, and sometimes lives, due to fires caused by heaters. These fires often start at night, so it’s critical to have a home security alarm to alert you while you’re sleeping. Furnaces should be inspected every year to ensure they’re in sound working condition. Similarly, your chimney should also be looked at by a professional before using it for the first time each winter. Some of the biggest fire-causing offenders are space heaters, also known as portable heaters. Their heating elements can reach really high temperatures and can ignite a variety of materials that get too close. Make sure your space heater is stable and doesn’t wobble so it won’t fall over. Keep it isolated in the middle of the floor. A good rule of thumb is to keep your space heater at least three feet away from furniture, curtains, clothing, etc. You should also educate children about the dangers of space heaters and ensure they won’t play with them or knock them over.
Smoking is obviously bad for your health and here’s another reason why. The leading cause of house fire deaths is careless smoking. Too often, people put down their cigarette and walk away only to come back and find it has rolled onto something flammable. Worse, people fall asleep while smoking, leaving the lit cigarette to fall onto their sheets or carpet. The best way to prevent this is to never smoke in the house. In lieu of that, at least make your bedrooms off limits to smoking so you’re not tempted to have that one last smoke as you’re dozing off. You should also always use real ashtrays, not something you make out of convenient materials around the house. They may not be resistant to the ongoing heat of a smoldering cigarette. Keep cigarettes and ashtrays clear of anything that’s susceptible to burn, like furniture, piles of clothing, towels, etc.
Electrical fires are especially scary because they can start and spread inside the walls or ceiling of your home before you even notice. This is what happened in the case of my friend’s home. While it’s tempting to work on do-it-yourself electrical projects around the home, be sure you know exactly what you’re doing or hire an electrician. The few extra bucks you might spend are nothing compared to the cost of losing your home. You should also regularly inspect your appliance cords to make sure they’re not frayed. Exposed wires are a big hazard. Other things to watch for include not overloading an outlet by plugging too many things into it at the same time and avoiding running cords under carpets or heavy furniture.
Candles may make beautiful decorations, but you don’t have to be a fire marshal to understand the risks associated with having open flames in the home. Because the flame itself is so low, however, some people don’t think of candles as a threat. Too often, they leave them burning unsupervised in another room. This is a recipe for disaster. Lit candles should always be within your view. Keep them on a solid, level base so they won’t tip over and keep them out of the reach of children or pets. As with any heat source, it’s important to keep it clear of any and all combustible materials – fabric, paper, even dust.