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House fires are scary for many reasons, but the most sobering is just how fast they can grow. According to FEMA’s Ready.gov website, a small fire can grow to a major one in 30 seconds, and an entire home can be engulfed in flames in under five minutes. For fire-safety experts, the most frustrating thing is that most house fires are preventable.
Mixed in with all that doom, however, is a silver lining: With proper precautions, many of the worst-case scenarios with house fires can be prevented. There are some key considerations to focus on when it comes to prevention: more fires take place during the winter due to space heaters and fireplaces; the majority of house fires begin in the kitchen; faulty electrical systems are a breeding ground for potential fires; and teaching kids some basic lessons about fire safety can go a long way toward stopping potential disasters.
See below for our five fire-prevention steps to save not only your property and valuables, but also the lives of your loved ones.
Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors are your first line of defense against a house fire. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends at least one on every floor, and ideally one in every bedroom or sleeping area. After installation, it’s equally important to test that they’re operational every month by pushing their test button. For battery-operated units, change the batteries at least once per year and replace the units completely every 10 years. Listen for the “chirping” sound, which will alert you that the batteries need changing.
What type of smoke alarm is best? There are two main types of smoke detectors: photoelectric and ionization. The less expensive and more common kind is ionization, which uses air quality as its guide. Photoelectric detectors use light to scan for smoke, and they’re fastest and best at smoke detection. Most fire-related deaths are due not to the actual flames, but smoke inhalation. The NFPA gives the advantage to photoelectric alarms, but it also suggests installing both types to be most protected.
Did You Know? Only 10 percent of U.S. homes had smoke alarms in 1975, but that number jumped to over 95 percent by 2000. During that period, deaths from fires decreased by almost half, making it one of the most successful fire-safety measures in modern history.
Cooking-related accidents are the No. 1 cause of household fires. More than half of all residential fires are caused by incidents in the kitchen, according to the NFSA, and the highest numbers of household fires occur during between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. — or the most common dinner hours.
Follow these important steps to avoid kitchen fires:
Pro Tip: Consider purchasing a portable, fireproof box for your valuable papers and mementos, and collect them with a clear mind. You won’t have time to find them when you’re evacuating your home in survival mode.
What’s cozier than a roaring fire or more romantic than a candlelit dinner? The key to enjoying either one, though, is making sure their flame sources are contained and kept far away from flammable household items. The same goes for space heaters. Keep them at a safe distance of three feet from any combustible or flammable items, and make sure you purchase one that is UL certified and has an automatic shut-off if it falls over.
Keep these tips in mind to avoid a fire:
Open flames and hot frying pans seem like obvious fire hazards, but don’t overlook electrical maintenance. If you see any fraying in cords or you notice outlets, light switches, or cords that are hot to the touch, replace them immediately.
Never run cords under rugs or any kind of fabric, and avoid indoor use of extension cords — especially ones that aren’t surge protected or made for household use. It’s a good idea to have your electrical system professionally checked for safety every three to five years, or annually if you live in an older home.
FYI: The holiday season can bring many fire hazards, in the form of dry trees, electric lights, and overloaded extension cords. Keep your tree watered daily, never leave the tree lights on while you’re not at home, and keep your tree at least three feet from fireplaces, candles, or any heat source.
Children will often be naturally curious about fire, matches, and lighters. The U.S. Fire Administration suggests teaching your kids the phrase, “Fire is a tool, not a toy.” They should be aware that fire starters are only to be used by adults. Keep any matches or lighters stored up high and away from your children’s reach.
For small children, use stove knob covers and oven locks to prevent not only potential fires, but also burns. Kids love to feel like they’re part of things, so once they know the basics of fire safety, they can help by pointing out any hazards.
Did You Know? The NFSA offers top-notch kids fire-safety resources starring Sparky the Dalmatian dog. You’ll find child-friendly videos, coloring pages, games, activities, and more.
The old Ben Franklin adage holds true when it comes to fire safety: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you follow these simple, common-sense steps, it will go a long way toward preventing a potential household disaster.