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In 2011, approximately 370,000 fires were reported in the U.S. These fires caused over 2,500 deaths and nearly 14,000 injuries. House fires were responsible for almost $7 billion in damage during 2011 alone. Unfortunately, these statistics are not atypical. Each year, families lose their homes to fires that could potentially have been prevented. Understanding the causes of home structural fires can help save property and lives that would otherwise be lost to these destructive events.
The damage and injuries caused by a house fire can be devastating. By taking steps to prevent fires and by establishing a proactive plan to deal with them effectively, families and individuals can protect themselves against property loss and personal injury due to these catastrophic events.
Top 10 Reasons for House Fires
The National Fire Protection Association has identified ten primary causes for house fires in the U.S. While rankings may vary slightly from year to year, these ten activities and conditions pose the greatest risk of igniting a potentially deadly house fire.
- Cooking – The number one cause of house fires is failure to properly monitor or manage cooking equipment inside the home.
- Smoking – Careless smoking habits caused one-fourth of all house structural fire deaths and were responsible for one in twenty house fires in the U.S.
- Heating equipment – Faulty heaters were second in causing fatalities and second in causing home structural fires.
- Electrical shorts and wiring – Faulty electrical components were ranked third in fatalities caused when fires started in these mechanical elements of the residence.
- Clothes dryers and washers – These modern amenities were responsible for a significant percentage of house fires.
- Candles – Used for decoration, scenting the home and lighting, candles are responsible for a disproportionate number of fire-related deaths when left unattended.
- Arson – More than 10 percent of all house fire fatalities result from cases where the fires were apparently deliberately set.
- Playing with fire – Children playing with matches or lighters were responsible for two percent of house fires, but those fires caused four percent of the total fatalities from home structural fires.
- Fires spreading from other structures – High winds and dry conditions cause a certain percentage of house fires each year as a result of fire spreading from one structure to other nearby homes.
- Flammable liquids – Storing gasoline, turpentine and other flammable materials inside the home can be a major risk factor for devastating and destructive home fires.
Do's and Dont's After a House Fire
Even if the house appears structurally intact, wait for the go-ahead from a qualified professional before entering the home after a fire. The interior of the house may still have areas of standing water, so it is essential to watch out for slick areas when navigating the areas affected by the fire. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind after a fire.
• Do change the air filters in the heating and cooling system to help dissipate the smell of smoke.
• Don’t use any food items that were in or near the area of the fire; they may have absorbed dangerous chemicals or spoiled due to excessive heat.
• Do have the electrical wiring checked to ensure it is in working order before turning on lights or appliances.
• Don’t attempt to use any appliances or equipment that was burned or water-damaged during the fire.
• Do make a full inventory of all damaged items and take photographs for insurance company documentation.
Taking the Right Steps to Protect Against House Fires
Most of the primary causes for home structural fires in the U.S. are preventable. Homeowners can take a number of steps to reduce the risk of fire and to protect themselves and their loved ones in the event that a fire does occur.
• Maintain working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in every room. Smoke alarms save lives and can provide valuable time to firefighters, allowing them to minimize structural damage to the home. Test smoke alarms monthly and replace batteries as needed to ensure full function for these valuable home protection devices.• Never leave cooking or candles unattended. Remove any dish towels, potholders and other flammable materials from areas where they might make contact with the heated cooking surface.• Space heaters should be placed at least three feet away from furniture, walking paths inside the home and walls.
• For those who smoke, restricting this activity to the outdoors can significantly reduce the risk of starting a fire. Never smoke when sleepy or in bed.
• Keep a functioning fire extinguisher in the kitchen and in any other room that contains cooking or heating equipment.
• Schedule an inspection of the home’s electrical system by a trained professional to identify any potential problems before they become critical.
• Keep all fire sources secured where children cannot access them.
• Establish a family fire escape plan and practice following the designated escape routes. By planning and practicing in advance of a fire, family members can act more quickly and confidently if the need ever arises.
• Retain a copy of important legal documents, insurance policies, family photos and other necessary paperwork in a secure location away from the home.
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