10 Seemingly Innocent Things That Can Cause a Fire

HOUSE FIRE - house made of matches on fire Photo Credit: Myriam Zilles

By Gary Findley

Every homeowner’s worst nightmare is the possibility of losing their beloved home to a fire. While most of us know the importance of installing and maintaining smoke detectors on every floor, did you know there are many seemingly “innocent” causes of fire that you may not be aware of? As a homeowner or tenant, you need to be wary of these 10 potential hazards and be vigilant with each.

1. Heat Sources

Portable heaters should be kept safely away from any combustible materials. Furniture, bedding, and curtains should never be closer than a few feet from the heater. Fuel-based heaters also require adequate ventilation to eliminate exposure to the silent killer – carbon monoxide. It’s a good idea to install a carbon monoxide detector and be sure it’s working properly with a good long-life battery.

Have your furnace checked regularly to ensure proper operation and venting. This will ensure you’re maximizing heating efficiency and possibly saving utility costs as well. If you use a fireplace, have your chimney professionally checked annually and cleaned as necessary.

2. Cooking

Many home fires are initiated by leaving cooking equipment unattended. Hot oil that splatters onto stove surfaces can ignite a fire that could spread very quickly. Combustible items such as kitchen towels or oven mitts getting too close to burners can also start fires that are out of control in seconds.

Always keep a close watch when you’re cooking – as distractions can result in tragedy.

3. Electrical Precautions

Electrical problems cause many fires – most of which can be prevented by following some simple guidelines:

Never use frayed appliance cords or extension cords. When using an extension cord, be sure it’s rated to support the appliance it’s connected to.

WHN Expert TIP: Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has Extension Cord Safety Tips and a downloadable chart listing extension cord designations.

Don’t overload outlets. This practice can result in overheating and sparking which presents a fire hazard.

If you have a home project that includes electrical work and are not truly experienced in that skill, enlist the services of a professional electrician. You will be assured of safe, quality workmanship.

4. Wiring Limitations

Besides simple electrical issues, many homes may have outdated or inadequate wiring for today’s appliances and other electrical demands. If your home has limited outlets that require you to overload wall sockets, it’s time to call in an electrician.

Other indications that your wiring needs attention are:

  • Fuses or circuit breakers blow or trip frequently
  • The use of appliances requires unplugging others
  • Lights dim when appliances are used

5. Smoking

Sadly, many tragic fires are caused each year by careless smoking or unattended smoking materials. Bedrooms are high-risk areas for smoking, with the abundance of combustible materials and the likelihood that smokers could fall asleep in the presence of burning cigarettes or other products.

Those who smoke in the home should utilize ashtrays meant for that specific purpose and never leave burning materials placed where they could be knocked over or fall on flammable materials such as furniture or carpets.

6. Unattended Children

Children are naturally curious about fire and burning items, and will always be drawn to things like fireworks, lighters, and matches. Some are unfortunately prone to mischief and burning small items, which can tragically get out of hand and start serious fires.

Always keep items such as matches and candle igniters out of the reach of children, and keep your eyes open for indications that children have been playing with matches or other incendiary materials.

7. Candles

Candles beautify homes, enhance room ambiance, and provide pleasant scents throughout the home. However, they are a major culprit of fires when left or placed irresponsibly.

Always place candles in sturdy holders that are non-combustible. Never leave them unattended or in places where children or pets could reach them or knock them over. And always remember to extinguish all candles when you leave the room or go to bed.

8. Combustible Liquids

Cleaning supplies, paints, adhesives, and other combustible fluids can be labeled as fire hazards. All these liquids should be stored according to the manufacturers’ recommendations and kept away from high temperatures areas such as a furnace or hot water heater.

Vapors from unsealed liquids can accumulate on floor surfaces and may be ignited by appliances fueled by combustion or containing pilot lights. Always keep such materials closed tightly and away from heat-generating appliances – including portable heaters.

Keep fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, and other highly flammable materials outdoors in cool places, stored in proper, enclosed containers.

9. Holiday Decorations

Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays are a great time to decorate your home, but did you know these decorations can be a major fire hazard? To avoid this, be sure that any natural trees are kept watered to keep them from becoming dry and dangerously flammable. Check all lights to ensure no cords are damaged or frayed.

Be sure trees and other decorations are kept safely away from heat sources, including portable heaters, furnace ducts, and candles.

10. Grills and Smokers

Barbecuing is a favorite way to enjoy outdoor cooking and great food. Unfortunately, many fires each year are started by careless use of both charcoal and gas grills.

Check gas grills regularly for leaks by spraying fittings with soapy water, then watching for any bubbles when the gas is turned on. If any occur, turn the gas off immediately to address any loose or damaged fittings or pipes.

Never operate a barbecue close to deck railing materials, under tree limbs, or indoors – even in the garage.

What to Do When Disaster Strikes

If your home has experienced fire damage, restoration companies such as Restoration 1 can help get your home and life back to normal. Our IICRC-licensed professionals can evaluate the damage and have a team of experienced technicians deployed to restore your home quickly and effectively.

Gary Findley is CEO of Restoration 1 and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, headquartered in Waco, Texas.

Photo Credit: Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

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