It can happen within two minutes — first a lick of flame, then it spreads as it searches for fuel. The next thing you know, you could have a life-threatening fire on your hands. But fires can be prevented with a few very simple precautions.
The All-Important Smoke Alarm
Smoke alarms double the chance of your family surviving a fire, so it goes without saying that you should have several.
- Don’t neglect to test them and change the batteries regularly.
- You should test them once a month and change the batteries every 6 months (if your smoke alarms use replaceable batteries) regardless of whether they seem to need it, just to be on the safe side (some alarms are 10-year tamper resistant and don’t have replaceable batteries).
- You know the drill — make it a habit to change batteries twice a year when you turn your clocks.
- Purchase smoke alarms and other fire safety products at the American Red Cross store.
Kitchen Fires Are Most Common
Most home fires start in the kitchen during cooking — usually on stovetops —not in the oven. Be sure to stay in the kitchen when cooking, frying, or grilling on your stove top.
- Check for curtains, towel racks or even paper towel dispensers sitting too close to the burners.
- If your microwave isn’t built in, make sure it’s clear of surrounding clutter and its vents aren’t obstructed.
- If you don’t already have one, buy a fire extinguisher to keep within easy reach should something ignite while you’re cooking.
- Remember, don’t toss water on a grease fire if you’re caught without an extinguisher. If a fire starts in a pan—and many do—put a lid on it to suffocate the flames.
Keep Your Home Safe While Keeping It Warm
Heating equipment, like space heaters, are involved in 1 of every 6 home fires. Furthermore, 1 in every 5 home fire deaths and half of all fires caused by home heating occur between December and February.
- Make sure to always keep anything that gives off heat at least 3 feet away from flammable materials or items.
- Never plug more than one heating appliance into an outlet.
- Keep portable gas generators outside and away from windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- If you have a fireplace, make sure your chimney is checked and cleaned by a professional once a year. Use a metal or glass screen that is large enough to prevent escaping embers.
- Never leave fires (or candles) burning, or heating appliances plugged in, while asleep, in another room, or when you leave your home.
Check Your Appliances
Dryers are responsible for about 9 out of 10 appliance fires.
- Check yours—in fact, check all your appliances—for testing labels that indicate you purchased them in safe working order. You may not find them on some older appliances, so consider whether it’s time to replace them or have them checked by a professional.
- Make it a habit to clean out the lint screen every time you use your dryer. It may be an annoyance, but this simple action can save you a lot more pain and aggravation later.
Don’t Forget Electronics and Outlets
All those appliance and electronic cords have to plug in somewhere, so your electrical outlets should be next on your home inspection list.
- Are any overloaded or showing signs of wear?
- Rearrange things so as many appliances as possible have their own outlets, and use extension cords to reach more distant outlets.
- This option may be a bit unsightly, but avoid running extension cords under rugs.
- Make sure your lamps are all using bulbs with wattage equal to or less than what the manufacturer recommends as well.
- When it comes to electronics, unplug them when they’re not in use whenever possible.
- Lastly, keep in mind that items like televisions and computers need space from anything flammable because they can overheat!
Inspect Storage Areas
Your garage, basement and yard can present hazards as well — in fact, they have the potential to be even more dangerous.
- Avoid cluttering debris or junk near your furnace or heater.
- Old newspapers piled in damp, warm places can actually self-combust—they don’t even have to be close to a heat source.
- If you have gasoline or other flammable liquids at home, keep them tightly sealed in metal containers and make sure they’re far away from heat sources, including the gas or charcoal grill you love to use in the summer.
- The grill itself should be at least 10 feet from your home and placed away from any overhead branches or structures.
Practice Your Escape Plan
Despite your best efforts, something may go unexpectedly wrong, so you and your family should have a plan for what to do in case of emergency.
- Create an escape route that provides two possible exits from each room, such as a window and a door.
- Avoid using any windowless rooms as bedrooms.
- Keep escape routes as clutter-free as possible so no one trips and falls on the way out during an emergency.
- Practice your plan at least twice a year and make sure everyone can safely escape in less than 2 minutes.
- Keep in mind that members of your household may need extra assistance. Have a plan for who will help them and practice!
The American Red Cross and its partners have launched an initiative that aims to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25 percent in five years with the Home Fire Campaign. Learn more at redcross.org/fire