No homeowner should ever have to experience a house fire. One minute, you’re cooking a meal or lighting a few candles, and the next, your home is completely engulfed in flames, resulting in thousands of dollars in property damage. Fortunately, you can mitigate your chances of starting a fire by taking proper precautions at home.
So what are the top causes of house fires, and how can you lower the risk of starting one?
Top Causes of House Fires
Here are some of the most common causes of house fires and how you can protect your family and property from catastrophe.
Cooking is the number one cause of house fires in the United States. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that cooking causes an average of 172,900 house fires per year — nearly half of all reported house fires in the U.S. These cooking-related fires also result in an estimated 550 deaths and 4,820 injuries annually.
Grease is one of the main culprits. A grease fire usually happens when your cooking oil gets too hot, begins to smoke, and ignites. That’s why you should never leave your kitchen unattended when cooking in oil or making food that generates grease, such as bacon. It’s also important to thoroughly clean your cooking equipment to prevent grease from building up over time.
No matter what causes a kitchen fire, you should always have a fire extinguisher nearby. If the fire is small enough, you can even sprinkle baking soda over the flames or smother the fire with a metal lid. However, call the fire department immediately if the fire gets out of control.
Heating appliances such as space heaters can help warm your home, especially during the colder months. However, many people misuse them, resulting in a house fire. According to the NFPA, fixed and portable space heaters accounted for two in five house fires involving heating equipment from 2014 to 2018.
To avoid starting a fire, ensure your space heater is on a flat surface where it can’t tip over. Additionally, keep your space heater at least 3 to 5 feet away from fabrics and other combustible materials. You also never want to use an extension cord or power strip with your space heater because it can overload the circuit and cause a fire.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), electrical problems cause an estimated 51,000 fires, 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage each year. Electrical house fires most often occur because of:
- Short circuits or loose connections that cause sparking, which can ignite building materials.
- Circuits overloaded with current, causing wires to overheat.
Contact a licensed electrician if you live in an older home and notice some electrical issues — e.g., flickering lights, blown fuses, discoloration around outlets, etc. They can help ensure your home’s electrical system is safe and up to code.
It’s no secret that cigarettes harm your health, but it can also put your family and property at risk. According to the NFPA, cigarettes cause an annual average of 18,100 house fires, about 600 deaths, and over 1,100 injuries in the U.S. These fires often happen because homeowners smoke inside their houses and accidentally ignite carpeting, furniture, and other flammable materials with their lit cigarettes.
If you must smoke, it’s best to do it outside. Completely put out your cigarettes in an ashtray or bucket of sand because disposing your butts on the ground or grass could spark a wildfire.
Burning candles is a wonderful way to give your home a pleasant scent and a soft, warm glow. But if you leave a candle unattended and let it burn down the bottom of its container, the fire could spread and catch nearby objects on fire. In fact, the NFPA states that home candle fires cause an annual average of 81 deaths, 677 injuries, and $278 million in property damage.
If you’re burning candles in your home, ensure they’re at least a foot away in all directions from flammable and combustible materials. Also, always blow out the candles whenever you leave the room.
The holiday season brings so much joy and happiness, but believe it or not, Christmas trees can quickly turn the most wonderful time of the year into a disaster. According to the NFPA, Christmas trees cause about 160 house fires and $10 million in direct property damage.
Real evergreen trees tend to dry out over the holiday season, so check the water level daily. Also, periodically inspect the needles for their freshness. They should be hard to pull from the branches and not break when bent between your fingers.
Artificial trees made with vinyl or plastic needles are usually safer than real ones, but the tree lights can still pose a fire risk if there’s bad wiring in the string lights. Inspect your lights for bare wires or any other problems before hanging them on your tree.
Lastly, whether it’s a real or artificial tree, always keep it away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators, and vents.
Practicing fire prevention is one of the best ways to protect your family and property. Still, the unexpected can happen, and homeowners insurance can help you and your family get back on your feet when it does. Consider Mercury Insurance, where we offer reliable coverage at an affordable rate.