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Preventing House Fires

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD

How Can We Prevent a House Fire?

Always be aware of possible fire hazards in your home, and keep these tips in mind:

Electrical Appliances, Cords, and Outlets

  • Are your electrical appliances in good condition, without loose or frayed cords or plugs?
  • Are your outlets overloaded with plugs from the TV, computer, printer, video game system, and stereo?
  • Are you overusing an extension cord?
  • Do the light fixtures in your home use bulbs that are the correct wattage?
  • Does your home contain GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) and/or AFCIs (arc fault circuit interrupters), which prevent electrical shock and fire by shutting off faulty circuits?

Tips for using appliances, cords, and outlets:

  • Replace or professionally repair any appliances that spark, smell unusual, or overheat.
  • Don't run electrical wires under rugs.
  • Make sure lamps and nightlights are not touching bedspreads, drapes, or other fabrics.
  • Use caution when using electric blankets.
  • Don't let kids use kitchen appliances by themselves and supervise any art or science projects that involve electrical devices.
  • Cover any outlets that are not in use with plastic safety covers if you have toddlers or young children in your home.

Portable Heaters

Before plugging in your space heater, make sure you know how to use it safely:

  • Carefully read the directions for its use.
  • Never place a space heater where a child or pet could accidentally knock it over.
  • Never place a space heater too close to a bed, especially a child's bed.
  • Keep newspapers, magazines, and fabrics from curtains, clothes, or bedding away from space heaters, radiators, and fireplaces.
  • Heaters should be at least 3 feet from anything flammable.

Kitchen Appliances

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States. A fire can start from:

  • food left unsupervised on a stove or in an oven or microwave 
  • grease spills
  • a dish towel too close to a burner
  • a toaster or toaster oven flare-up 
  • a coffee pot accidentally left on

Tips for using the stove:

  • Always supervise kids while cooking.
  • Turn all pot handles in so they can't be knocked over.
  • Don't wear loose-fitting clothing that could catch fire around the stove.

Fireplaces

  • Keep fireplaces clean and covered with a screen to stop sparks from jumping out.
  • Only wood should be burned in the fireplace — paper and other materials can escape while burning and start a fire on nearby items.
  • Never leave a fire burning unattended.
  • Make sure a fire is completely put out before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • Have the chimney professionally cleaned once a year.

Cigarettes

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of fire deaths in the United States and Canada, killing about 1,000 people per year. Most fires start when ashes or butts fall into couches and chairs.

If you smoke:

  • Be especially careful around upholstered furniture.
  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Make sure cigarettes are completely out before you toss them into the trash.

Matches and Lighters

Playing with matches is still the leading cause of fire-related deaths and injuries for kids younger than 5.

  • Always keep matches and lighters out of children's reach.
  • Store flammable materials such as gasoline, kerosene, and cleaning supplies outside of your home and away from kids.

Candles

Tips for using candles:

  • Keep them out of reach of kids and pets.
  • Keep away from curtains and furniture.
  • Extinguish them before you go to bed.
  • Make sure candles are in sturdy holders made of non-flammable material that won't tip over.
  • Don't let older kids and teens use candles unsupervised in their rooms.

Smoke Alarms

Having smoke alarms may be the most important thing you can do to keep your family safe.

Tips for using smoke alarms:

  • Install them on every level of your home and in each bedroom.
  • If possible, choose alarms with a 10-year lithium battery.
  • If your smoke alarm uses regular batteries, remember to replace them every year (hint: change your batteries when you change your clock back from Daylight Saving Time in the fall).
  • Test your smoke alarms monthly, and be sure your kids are familiar with the sound of the alarm.
  • Because smoke rises, smoke detectors should always be placed on ceilings or high on walls.
  • If a smoke detector near the kitchen goes off while you're cooking, don't take the battery out of it — you may forget to replace it. Open the doors and windows instead.
  • If you're having a new home built or remodeling an older home, you may want to consider adding a home sprinkler system. These are already found in many apartment buildings and dorms.

Being prepared is the best way to protect your family from a fire. Knowing the rules of fire prevention can save lives.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: February 2019