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Residential fires: The main causes and tips to prevent them


By Cristina Miguelez, Remodeling Specialist,

Guest Blogger

Each year, an estimated 371,000 residential fires occur in the United States. These fires result in more than 2,000 deaths, 10,000 injuries, and more than 7 billion dollars in damages. And while the total number of fires per year has decreased very slightly since 2008, this is still far too many, especially when combined with the total of deaths.

Thankfully, there are steps that people can take to help prevent fires in the future. The key is understanding the most common causes, so you can be better equipped to avoid them.

The graphic above shows the impact of residential fires over the last decade, as well as the most common causes of fire in residential settings.

Understand the most common causes of residential fires

While residential fires can be caused by a variety of issues, cooking fires are far and away the most common cause. More than 50 percent of all fires over the last decade have been started in the kitchen by someone cooking. Other causes include heating systems, 9 percent; open flames, 4 percent; electrical malfunctions, 6 percent; and carelessness, 7 percent. However, all of these totaled don’t equal the same threat that cooking carries with it.

Prevent household fires, injuries, and deaths

Prevention is a multi-layered process that needs to take on several different factors with several different goals in mind. For example, it's always the goal to strive toward completely preventing residential fires, but there should still be plans in place to help avoid injury or death in the event that a fire does break out.

Install smoke detectors

Smoke detectors should always be your first line of defense against a fire. Unfortunately, many homes either don’t have adequate smoke detectors or the ones they do have aren’t working properly. Installing new smoke detectors, which costs around $150 per unit, can help you remain safe in the event of a fire, or may be able to alert you to a potential fire before it becomes serious. For example, smoke from an oven may reach a smoke detector before what you’re cooking bursts into flame.

Install carbon monoxide detectors

Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless gas, which can be caused by malfunctioning equipment. It can also lead to headaches and death if not detected quickly. Install carbon monoxide detectors outside of bedrooms to alert you if this gas is present.

Keep fire extinguishers handy

Having a fire extinguisher on hand can potentially stop a large number of serious fires before they get out of hand. Keep a fire extinguisher on the counter near your stove where it is easily visible. Don't place it beneath your sink where it may be forgotten in the panic that a fire creates. Familiarize yourself with the fire extinguisher and how to use it. Make sure that you replace them regularly, as they do expire. They cost between $15 and $100.

Buy fire blankets

Fire blankets can be used to quickly and safely put out small fires. They can also be used to cover your body to help protect you as you exit a burning room or building. These small blankets can be folded and kept in bedrooms and kitchens, the two areas you're most likely to need them.

Hire a fire protection expert

Fire protection teams are available that can help you install these items and advise you on the best locations to keep them. They can also assist you in other fire protection techniques such as sprinkler installation, smoke curtain installation, or fire ladders.

Stay safe in your home

Once you’re aware of the threat that residential fires pose, you can take steps to protect yourself. Make sure you have working smoke and CO detectors as well as a working fire extinguisher close by in the kitchen. Don’t wait until a fire happens to you. Take steps to lower your risk today.


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