Causes for House Fires & How to Prevent Them

Fires, as we all know, can be scary and unpredictable. They can start in a variety of ways, some obvious and some not so much. It’s important for homeowners to be aware of these reasons in order to best protect their family, home, and possessions from fire damage.

1. Cooking Fires.

These are the most common causes of house fires – almost 48%! Often, cooking-related fires are a result of overheating grease on a strove or in an oven, as grease is highly flammable when it gets hot enough. At about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, grease will spontaneously combust, even without direct flame contact, and once it ignites it’s difficult to put out. Usually these fires start when a homeowner leaves a hot oven or stove unattended, so be sure to never leave your kitchen when cooking oil or food that produces grease and clean your cookware to prevent grease from building up over time. Toasters and electric griddles can also be a source of fires, so never leave these appliances unsupervised, and make sure they’ve cooled down before storing them again.

2. Heaters.

Space and baseboard heaters are the second leading cause of residential fires (15%), causing fire when fabrics or other materials are too close to them. Always follow the instructions on any home heating system you use and make sure it’s in good condition. Be sure to never leave the house with a heating appliance running, and make sure any flammable materials are kept away from space heaters.

3. Electrical Fires.

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, faulty electrical wiring causes roughly 51,000 fires, 500 deaths, 1400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage each year. These fires are a result of short circuits sparking and igniting the building material nearby, or by circuits with overloaded currents, which lead to wire overheating. While electrical fires are only responsible for 10% of yearly housefires, they’re responsible for 19% of deaths. They tend to begin in unseen places, or even when homeowners are asleep.

4. Smoking.

We all know smoking is dangerous to our health, but it can also lead to fires. Cigarettes or other smoking sources account for 5% of yearly house fires, but are responsible for 23% of all fire deaths – the single most common cause. If quitting isn’t in your future plans, then make sure you smoke outside or over a sink to help reduce your fire risk.

5. Candles.

On average, candles are the cause of 8200 house fires, 80 deaths, and 770 injuries each year. Keep matches and lighters locked in a secure place if you have kids, and never leave a candle burning in a room that is unattended. Always blow candles out before leaving the room and keep candle flames at least 12 inches from any flammable materials.

6. Chemical Fires.

When it comes to chemical fires in the home, the most common reason is when vapors from gasoline or other petroleum liquids reach a flash-point temperature or when the fumes contact a source of open flame. Another common type of chemical fire is spontaneous combustion – the reaction of chemicals combining with oxygen in the air to produce enough heat to reach a flashpoint and ignite in flame. There are an estimated 14,000 chemical fires each year, and while only a handful of them are in homes, they can be deadly due to their sudden onset. Be sure to store fuels and other chemicals in their proper containers and keep them in cool locations. A common source of this kind of fire is the gasoline or other fuel used to power lawn equipment.

7. Christmas Trees.

Real evergreen trees dry out and can be a real danger. In fact, a hot light or a spark can immediately set the tree aflame, spread quickly, and engulf a room in a matter of seconds! Christmas tree fires are the least common cause of house fires, only accounting for 170 each year. However, they can be quite deadly, with one out of every 45 Christmas tree fires leading to death. Artificial trees are still susceptible to electrical fires from bad wiring in the light-bulb string or an overloaded outlet. Never leave Christmas tree lights plugged in when you are not at home or when you are sleeping. Whenever possible, use LED lights rather than incandescent ones, as they’re much cooler to the touch.