7 Common Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them

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7 Common Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them

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This article comes from The Spruce.

7 Common Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them

An accidental fire can ignite with frightening unpredictability, spread uncontrollably in seconds, and can decimate a home within minutes. House fires endanger everyone in the home and even small fires that are put out quickly often result in thousands of dollars of damage. Having a proper insurance policy is essential to help mitigate the financial losses associated with a house fire, but it is far better to prevent the circumstances that lead to fires in the first place.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are more than 350,000 home fires each year in the U.S., leading to more than 2,600 deaths.1 Fires can be started in a number of ways, but they generally fall into one of two categories: fires caused by heat igniting combustible materials, and those caused by chemical reactions. Your home is full of objects and materials that can combust under the right conditions. Some of the common causes of house fires are familiar to everyone, while others may surprise you. Identifying and lowering these risks help you lower your chance of house fire, keeping your family and property safer.

1. Cooking-Related Fires

Cooking fires are among the most common types of house fires, causing around 49 percent of all residential fires.1 They are very often caused by greases that become overheated on a stove or in an oven. Grease is highly flammable when it gets hot enough (about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, on average) and when it reaches that point, it can combust spontaneously, even without direct flame contact. Once grease is ignited, it is very difficult to smother the flames.

Never leave the kitchen unattended when cooking in oil or when cooking a food that produces grease, such as bacon. Most kitchen fires start because when a homeowner leaves food cooking unsupervised on a stove or in an oven. By the time the fire is discovered, it’s usually too late. Thoroughly clean your cookware to prevent grease from building up over time.

Portable cooking appliances, such as toasters and electric griddles can also be a source of fires. Never leave these portable appliances unsupervised, and make sure they are cool to the touch before storing them away. Toasters should be regularly cleaned of crumbs that might ignite if they build up inside the appliance.

During the outdoor cooking season, barbecue grills left unattended on a wooden deck or near the exterior walls of a home can also be a source of fire. A heated grill next to a wooden fence can easily cause fire, and grills have been known to ignite the exterior walls of a home or garage if positioned too close.

Small grease fires can be extinguished quickly by turning off the heat and smothering the fire with a metal lid. Sprinkling baking soda or salt on the fire will also put it out, as well. A class-B or class-K fire extinguisher is also recommended, although the chemicals can create a notable cleanup issue.

With serious fires, make no attempt to put out the fire. Instead, call the fire department immediately. Under no circumstances should you dump water over the grease fire, as this can cause the hot grease to explode and throw burning grease over the area.

2. Heating Appliances

Home space heaters and baseboard heaters can cause fire when fabrics and other combustibles are left too close to them. Heating and cooling appliances of various types are the second leading cause of residential fires, responsible for over 12 percent of all home fires. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), some 25,000 home fires caused more than 300 deaths in the U.S. each year (2104 to 2016) as a result of space heaters.2

Heaters that require fuel, such as kerosene are especially dangerous, as they can ignite or blow up if not properly watched. Electrical heaters can cause fires if the electrical wiring is faulty, or if draperies or other fabrics overheat when they come in contact with the coils.

Always follow the instructions on any heating device you use, and inspect it regularly to ensure it is in good condition.

Never leave the house with a heater running. Space heaters almost always have instructions warning against unsupervised use, but thousands of house fires each year can be attributed to such appliances left running when homeowners are absent. Make sure flammable materials are kept well away from space heaters.

3. Electrical Fires

Various types of electrical faults in home wiring cause about 51,000 fires each year, accounting for nearly 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and about $1.3 billion in property damage. according to the EFSi (Electrical Safety Foundation international).3 Most typically, electric fires occur because of short circuits or loose connections causing arcing (sparking) that ignites building materials, or from circuits that are overloaded with current, causing wires to overheat. Electrical problems account for about 10 percent of all residential fires, but this type of fire is often deadly, accounting for about 18 percent of deaths due to home fire, according to the NFPA Home Structure Fires report.1 This is likely because electrical fires often ignite in hidden locations and build into major fires before residents are aware of them. And such fires frequently may ignite while residents are sleeping.

Properly installed electrical systems are very safe, with a number of built-in protective features, but old, faulty wiring systems can be susceptible to short circuits and overloading. It’s a good idea to have your wiring checked out by a professional electrician, especially if you live in an older home. And don’t perform your own electrical repairs or improvements unless you understand the principles of electricity and have experience doing such work.

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