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Home Fires: Are You Prepared?

Making Your Home and Family Safer from Fire


Updated January 23, 2014

We expect to feel safe and secure inside our homes, and that includes fire safety. Every year, we should take a few minutes to make our homes safer from fires.

In 2000, more than half a million buildings burned in the U.S., causing nearly 20,000 injuries and killing 3,500 people. Residential buildings (homes, condos, hotels and apartments) accounted for three quarters of all building fires, and single-family houses or duplexes made up over half of those. More than 95% of the fire deaths in 2000 came from residences burning.

Home Fire Causes: Cooking and Home Heating

Cooking is the biggest single cause, accounting for almost a quarter of all residential fires. Heating-related fires came in second and, if we exclude the fires that were set deliberately, then electricity comes in third.

House fires happen most frequently in the dead of winter -- December and January -- which goes along with cooking and heating being the most common causes. Decorating for the holidays also contributes.

A Christmas tree that catches fire can engulf a small living room in flames in less than a minute. Menorahs are also dangerous because of the candles. Candles are to blame for 1 in 20 home fires and cause nearly twice as many fires in December than any other month. Nearly 20% of candle fires are from unattended candles.

Home Fire Safety Tips

Protecting your home and family from fire requires planning and prudence. Here are five easy steps to make your home safer:


  1. Install smoke alarms in hallways and in each bedroom. Many states require smoke alarms before you can sell a home, so it is quite likely you already have them. Push the test button and make sure your smoke alarms still work.

    Change the batteries at least once a year. A good rule of thumb is to change the batteries when you change your clocks back to standard time from daylight savings.


  2. Keep clutter away from clothes dryers, heaters, water heaters, furnaces, radiators, boilers, stoves and ovens. Clean lint regularly from around clothes dryers -- don't forget the inside of the vent hose.


  3. Draw up an escape plan in case of fire. Make sure there are two exits from every room. If you have a multi-story home, put fire ladders in each room above ground level.

    Practice evacuating with the family at least twice a year. A perfect time to practice evacuating is when you're changing the batteries and testing the smoke alarms. Pick a spot outside where the entire family should meet. That way, if someone is missing, you can tell the fire department when they respond.


  4. Put a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and the laundry room. Make sure the extinguisher is capable of putting out all three types of fires. Learn how to use the fire extinguisher before you need it.

    Some fires can be easily extinguished even without an extinguisher if you know how. Grease fires, for example, can often be put out by simply covering them.


  5. Use caution when burning candles. Better yet, toss out all your candles. For emergency light during power failures, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns.


Besides these steps, clean your fireplace chimney at least once a year if you have one. Use caution and common sense when decorating for the holidays. Avoid using real Christmas trees or candles in Christmas decorating, and never use the two together. For Hanukkah, use a high-quality menorah and candles that fit tightly in the holders. Don't let the menorah burn unattended and keep all combustibles far away from it. Don't burn wrapping paper in the fireplace and skip the fireworks on New Year's Eve.


  • Ahrens, Marty. Home Candle Fires. NFPA. Fire Analysis and Research Division. Quincy, MA. Aug 2005
  • United States. FEMA/USFA. All structure fires in 2000. Topical Fire Research Series, Vol 3 #8: National Fire Data Center Jun 2004
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