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7 Steps to Help Prevent Fires in Your Home

by Karina Gafford

I whipped out my shiny new fire extinguisher when the flames billowed from my oven a few years back. Directing it at the flames coming off the broiler in my stove, and--thoroughly unsure of what to expect--I sprayed. It worked. What I didn't anticipate, though, was just how much power lurked inside that innocuous looking canister. 

Photo credit: MaimentoDollarPhotoClub

White foam spray went everywhere. In a mere matter of seconds, the spray foam not only doused the teeny little flames emanating from what was our dinner, but also our entire kitchen, the breakfast nook, and half the dining room. Even after scrubbing the house for hours, weeks after I still found traces of a thin layer of foam covering bits of molding and hardwoods from clear across the other end of the home. 

Hearing the commotion I was making in the kitchen, my husband rushed in, assessed the situation, and then looked at me blankly (likely wondering who or what had he married, no doubt) and asked, "Why didn't you just shut the oven door?" 



That hadn't occurred to me. 

I share this highly embarrassing moment with you to highlight the importance of preparedness for emergency situations, or in my case, what seems like an emergency. No matter how much you think you know about home maintenance and safety precautions for the home, there's always something we can learn. 

It's pretty embarrassing now that I think back on it, but at the time, I thought I was taking the right step to put out the little fire my broiled tortillas created. I had heard stories of how quickly fires can rage through a home, so my first instinct was to do whatever it took to put it out. What I didn't realize, though, is that one in five home fire injuries come from inexperienced people such as myself trying to fight the fire.

Fires from cooking are the leading cause of home fires, after all. They cause two in every five home fires, which is definitely something to keep in mind next time you're considering cooking vs. delivery. 

Home fires are a big problem in the U.S. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported 1,240,000 home fires in 2013, and 3,240 deaths with 15,925 injuries. Let's take a look at some of the ways that you can reduce your home's risk of being a fire statistic. 

Establish an Evacuation Plan and Practice It

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explains that even children as young as three years old can understand a fire safety evacuation plan. Having looked at many new home designs this past month, almost all of which featured the master bedroom downstairs and all secondary bedrooms upstairs, it's critical that your young children can identify when and how to escape to safety in the event of a fire emergency. If your access to the stairs is blocked, will your children know to escape through a window? 

Kids Health warns that children who are unprepared for a house fire will try to hide either in a closet or under a bed where they are likely to die from smoke inhalation. They explain that you should teach your child to cover his mouth and nose with a cloth, crawl to escape, and test doors for heat to see if they are safe to open. Make sure your child knows to leave Fluffy and Fido behind. 

Ideally, though, the fire won't start in the first place. Take these 7 steps to help prevent fires in your home:

1. Check Smoke Alarms
More than half of all fatal fires in the home are in those without smoke alarms. You need lots of these. Place them on every floor in your home as well as inside each of the bedrooms in your home. Our post on 5 Days to a Spring Cleaned Home shares the tragic story of a family in New York who placed their smoke alarm only in the basement of their home, and the children upstairs all perished as a result of not hearing the alarm in time. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to check the alarms every single month. Do it now! I'll wait. 

2. Fire Extinguishers
You can purchase fire extinguishers inexpensively at stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, or Walmart. Place one in the kitchen, one in the laundry room (driers are the leading cause of fires started in the home), one near the door to the garage (not in the garage where it can overheat), and at least one in the vicinity of the bedrooms. When using an extinguisher, make sure you keep your aim on the base of the fire.

3.  Unplug and Turn off Everything
Having grown up in family restaurants, I've heard one too many stories of families losing their business and their dreams because they left on something as simple as a hot coffee burner. I've driven back to my family's restaurant on more late nights than I care to recall to double-check that we hadn't neglected our coffee burners. 

As military families, we likely have the coffee brewing all morning long. While sleep study group Snoozester reports that the average person wakes up between 7:05-8:20 AM, most military families have already been awake for at least an hour or two beforehand. With long, busy days, we generally don't get enough sleep, so it's even more important to make sure to double-check that the coffee is unplugged before we leave for work and school in the morning, and that we've made sure to unplug everything late at night no matter how tired we are. 

Just because something doesn't have a plug it doesn't mean it can't overheat and burn. A friend's overheated laptop set the common room in my college dormitory on fire! Recalls regularly cite potentials for overheating. One current recall item that your children may have is the Beats Pill XL wireless speakers.

4. Check Your Cords
If your dog is anything like a puppy we once fostered, make sure to check your electrical cords for signs of wear and tear. This little guy would dig his way under the sofa with extension cords, cell phone charger cords, or any other cord he could get enough length on to allow him to chew in peace, concealed from our view. How dangerous! I've no idea how he managed to never electrocute himself. Military families’ household goods take a beating with each consecutive move, so make sure to check your electrical cords for fraying every time you unpack. Also, spread out your plugs on extension cords. Don't put too many big items, such as a floor lamp, a television, and gaming systems on one extension cord. 

5. Add Warmth with Blankets
Space heaters, electric blankets, and fires all bring great warmth in the cooler months, but unfortunately, they also greatly increase your home's risk of fire. Heating equipment causes one in every five home fires and one in every five deaths from fires. In children's rooms, in particular, mitigate risk by helping children stay warm with more blankets and hot water bottles. 

6. Keep Your Butts Outside
The National Fire Prevention Association reports that cigarettes result in approximately 5 percent of all home fires, but 22 percent of all related deaths. There are 500 deaths per year and almost 1,400 fire-related injuries from smoking materials. If you do choose to smoke, they suggest keeping cigarettes outside the home and away from upholstered furniture and fabrics to help further prevent fires.

7. Blow out Candles, Matches, and Lighters
Between 2007 and 2011, the NFPA reported that 10,630 home fires resulted from candles. This amounts to a total of 3 percent of home fires during that period; it also amounted to a total of 4 percent of deaths from home fires. Over half of these fires started because the candle was located too close to a combustible material and one-fifth resulted from people leaving candles unattended. 

It should go without saying, but keep candles, matches, and lighters away from children. Store them on a high shelf either in the garage or in those hard to reach cupboards about the refrigerator. If you take advantage of the great sales on scented candles at The Exchange and use candles in your home, just make sure you don't leave the candle lit when you leave the room. Put the glass lid on the candle for added precaution.