There are approximately 365,500 residential fires each year. According to The American Red Cross, home fires have increased 10 percent since 2000. Home fires are more likely to occur during the winter months—predominately in December and January. Though cooking and kitchen fires are the leading cause of house fires, during the colder months people use alternative heating sources, burn candles more frequently and smoke cigarettes either closer to or inside the home—all of which are potential fire hazards. We cannot control the freezing temperatures, ice and snow, but we can prevent most home fires with caution and preparation.
Develop a Family Escape Plan
It only takes two minutes for a fire to rage so out of control it can become deadly. Create a detailed family escape plan—including two ways to get out of every room. Make sure your escape plan does not take any longer than two minutes to get out of the house. Get out immediately. There is no time to grab things!
Have a go-bag packed and ready to go in your vehicle or right by your bedside. In your bug-out bag, keep copies of important documents, especially insurance papers, a list of emergency contacts and pictures on a flash drive.
Arrange to meet in a safe place away from the home. Practice a fire drill at least twice a year. Once you leave the home, stay out of it! It is unsafe to go back inside.
When escaping a fire, crouch low below smoke and cover your mouth and nose with a cloth to prevent smoke inhalation. In fact, asphyxiation causes more deaths during home fires than burns. If smoke or flames block your escape route, use the second route. Before opening doors, feel the doorknob. If it is hot, do not open the door; use your other route out of the house. Roll up a blanket, sheet or towel and place it underneath doors if smoke is coming through. In second floor bedrooms, keep approved collapsible ladders near windows to ensure a safe alternative escape route.
Once outside, call 9-1-1. If you have pets trapped inside the house, alert fire fighters right away.
A window will most likely be a second source of escape from a house fire. Make sure windows open all the way and are not painted shut, screens quickly and easily come off and that security bars are easy to remove quickly.
Install smoke alarms on every floor of the house, near the kitchen and in particular close to bedrooms. Test every smoke alarm every month to make sure batteries are not dead and that it still works. Once a year, change the batteries regardless if they are dead or not.
Most house fires occur in January and the majority of those fires originate from a wood-burning fireplace or other heaters that use fuel. When wood burns, it creates a build-up of highly combustible creosote on the walls of your chimney. Have your chimney professionally cleaned every two years.
Get a fire extinguisher and contact your local fire department for training on how to use it properly.
- Do not leave frying, broiling or grilling food unattended
- Keep oven mitts, dishtowels, paper or cardboard products, curtains, wooden utensils and long sleeves away from the stovetop and hot oven
- Check food you are simmering, roasting or baking periodically and never leave the house with the oven or stove top on
- Never use the oven to heat your home
Clean the fireplace of old ash and debris before using it. Have it professionally cleaned and inspected by a chimney sweep at least every two years. Place dried logs—not green—at the back of the fireplace. Use kindling to start a fire—not lighter fluid, other flammable liquids, trash or excess paper. If you are going to use a starter log, use only one and never break it apart.
Keep a metal mesh screen or glass fireplace door around the front to prevent burning embers from flying out of the fireplace. Keep any combustible material away from the fireplace and mantel—including stockings!
Before going to bed or leaving the house, completely extinguish the fire. Make sure all coals and ash are cold before disposing of them. Put them in a metal can and store them away from the house.
- Only use space heaters inside your home that are indoor-rated and always use the fuel specified from the manufacturer in a fuel-burning space heater.
- Place space heaters on a hard, non-flammable surface—never on a carpet or rug.
- Plug the space heater directly into a wall socket and do not use an extension cord.
- Before using an electric space heater, check its cords for frayed or damaged wires. If wires appear damaged, do not use the space heater.
- Place space heaters at least three feet away from any combustible material—including curtains and furniture.
- Keep children and pets three feet away from space heaters.
- When purchasing a space heater for your home, buy one that has an automatic shut off safety feature if the space heater were to fall over.
- Do not hang anything from a spacer heater—including wet mittens, hats and scarves.
- Do not plug it into a socket with other heating appliances.
Avoid candles if you can and choose flameless candles instead. Flameless candles use soft LED light that flicker just like a regular flame. Some even emit a fragrance. If you will be burning traditional candles, place them on a solid, sturdy surface 12 inches away from anything that can burn. Always blow out a candle when you leave the house and before going to bed. If you experience a power outage, use battery-powered flashlights instead of candles.
For more on how to stay safe and protect yourself from winter’s dangers, read these following articles:
In December and January, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases. Read this article to learn how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Here are five ways to prep your house for upcoming ice and snowstorms, so that damage is minimal.
What do you need to store in case the power goes out when the temperatures dip below freezing? These six items will keep you warm and toasty when the power goes out.
Wind, ice and snow can knock out power lines for days. Before the weather gets severe, prepare for a snow-in and be comfortable with these 15 items.
What do you feel is the biggest hazard in winter? How have you prepared for it? Tell us about it in the comment section.