Common Ways House Fires Start
According to the National Fire Protection Association, every 24 seconds, a fire department in the United States responds to a fire somewhere in the nation. A fire occurs in a structure at the rate of one every 65 seconds, and a home fire occurs every 93 seconds. So what are the most common ways that
these fires get started in the first place? Here are the top 5 causes of house fires in the U.S.
- COOKING ACCIDENTS
By far, the top way that house fires get started is by cooking accidents, causing almost half of all structure fires. In 2018, fire departments responded to an average of 470 home cooking fires per day. The peak of this activity was during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays — where people are more likely to be home, more likely to be cooking many things at once, and more likely to be distracted. Cooking fires most frequently occur due overcooking (how many burned dinner rolls have you eaten in your lifetime?) or by spilling oil or grease while cooking. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to consistently and thoroughly clean your kitchen, especially the stove area. All kitchens that are used regularly will end up with a build-up of grease and oil on, behind, and under the stove if they are not cleaned often. Grease can spontaneously combust at about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and of course, if exposed to an open flame, will ignite as well. Unattended cooking is the most likely cause of cooking accidents. It is easy to imagine a distracted
cook – multi-tasking, caring for children, talking on the phone, watching television, texting, walking out of the room and forgetting to come back. These simple things that we don’t think about are how accidents occur. One time I got home late and decided I wanted to make a frozen potpie. It was late, and I was tired, hence I fell asleep waiting on the potpie to bake. Thankfully, I woke up a couple of hours later to the smell of burning food. That was a close call: a little more time and that potpie would have ignited. Lesson learned that day!
Heating equipment fires are the second most common cause of house fires in the United States. Similar to cooking fires, a failure to properly clean was a leading contributor in home heating fires. Mostly this was due to chimneys not being cleaned. Turns out chimney sweeps have a pretty important job to do outside of a song and dance across the London cityscape! Space heaters are the other most common cause of heating equipment fires. Usually this is a result of the heater being placed too closely to a flammable object, such as furniture, clothing, a mattress, curtains or bedding.
- ELECTRICAL & LIGHTING EQUIPMENT
Home electrical fires can start in wiring, electrical distribution systems, and lighting equipment, as well as in any equipment powered by electricity such as appliances or home electronics. Fires due to electrical failure or malfunction usually involve some form of arcing – a result of unintentional discharge of electrical current between conductors. If enough current is flowing and enough time has passed, arc faults can produce enough heat to ignite a fire. Arc faults can occur due to damaged wiring, frayed appliance cords, loose connections in wall outlets, or faulty switches and junction boxes.
- INTENTIONAL FIRE SETTING
Unfortunately, arson accounts for approximately 8% of all house fires in the United States. According to the NFPA, during 2010-2014, an estimated 261,330 intentional fires were reported to U.S. municipal fire departments each year. A shocking 68% of deaths related to these intentional fires were suicides.
About 5% of house fires were the result of smoking. Fires started by smoking materials have been the leading cause or one of the leading causes of home fire fatalities for decades. Most of these deaths result from fires that started in living rooms, family rooms and dens or in bedrooms. To help prevent these types of fires, the NFPA recommends the following safety tips:
• Smoke outside.
• Keep cigarettes, lighters, matches, and other smoking materials up high out of the reach of children, in a locked cabinet.
• Keep ashtrays away from anything that can burn.
• Do not discard cigarettes in vegetation such as mulch, potted plants or landscaping, peat moss, dried grasses, leaves or other things that could ignite easily.
• Before you throw away butts and ashes, make sure they are out, and dousing in water or sand.
• Never smoke and never allow anyone to smoke where medical oxygen is used. Medical oxygen can cause materials to ignite more easily and make fires burn at a faster rate.
While there are countless possible causes for structure fires, awareness of these top sources can help you to guard your family against the likelihood of them occurring.