Beep! Waking up to a smoke detector can be a terrifying experience, as my next-door neighbor Jolene recently learned. After lighting a candle on her windowsill, Jolene fell asleep before blowing it out. She awoke 30 minutes later to a room filled with smoke. Wind coming through the open window had blown the draperies right into the candle’s flame. Thanks to the smoke detector in her bedroom, Jolene escaped unscathed, although her house did sustain substantial damage.
Jolene is not alone. A home fire occurs every 85 seconds in the United States, according to a report, “Fire Loss in the United States During 2012” from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 2012, there were more than 1.3 million residential fires, resulting in $7 billion in property losses, the report says.
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Many of these fires occur during the hectic holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when it’s easy to get caught up in chaotic holiday preparations and overlook potential fire hazards, like turkey fryers and space heaters (in fact, cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires, according to the NFPA).
Since it’s Fire Prevention Week, we’re offering these home fire safety tips to help keep your family safe this season.
Nearly half of all home fires are cooking-related, says the National Fire Protection Association. And, of these, unattended cooking is the leading factor. So, stay in the kitchen if you’re cooking, and, if you have to leave — even for a short time — be sure to turn off the stove. Other cooking safety tips from the NFPA: Stay alert, and avoid cooking if you’re sleepy or if you’ve consumed alcohol; check food regularly; and keep anything that can catch fire away from the stove-top.
Heating systems, especially space heaters and wooden stoves, can easily ignite nearby household items. Keep all space heaters at least three feet from household items. Turn heaters off before leaving a room or going to sleep. Never leave pets or children unsupervised with a space heater or wooden stove (the NFPA recommends a 3-foot “kid-free zone”); in addition to the risk of starting a fire, heaters and stoves pose a danger of burns, as well.
Faulty, cracked or deteriorating electrical cords can cause an electrical fire. Check all your electrical cords for fraying or other signs of wear, and replace or repair any damage. Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpeting. And do not overload circuits; plug in only one high-wattage appliance into each receptacle outlet at a time, the NFPA says; consider hiring an electrician to add additional circuits or outlets if you need them.
With seasonal decorations covering tabletops and mantles, lighting real candles can be an invitation to disaster. Instead, the NFPA suggests choosing battery-operated candles, like LED versions. They flicker and sometimes even smell like the real thing! If you must have candles, the NFPA says blow them out when you leave the room or go to sleep; use candle holders that are sturdy and won’t topple; and keep all candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.
Jolene’s smoke detector saved her from harm. Test smoke detectors and check batteries at least twice a year (many suggest doing so on daylight savings). Stay safe by following the NFPA’s recommendations for smoke alarm placement: install one inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every floor in your house, including the basement.
What rules do you follow to prevent home fires?