Lifestyle: 5 Common Causes Of House Fires And How To Prevent Them

House on fire - preventing house fires
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This has to be at the top of most people’s nightmare-scenario lists. A fire can accidentally start, spread uncontrollably in no time leading to loss of property accumulated over years and even worse loss of lives. Here are some common causes of house fires and precautions you can take to prevent them.

1. Cooking-related fires

Around 49% of all residential fires involve cooking. Oil is highly flammable and once it gets hot enough can spontaneously combust. Once the oil is ignited it can be very difficult to smother the flames. When a pot or pan overheats or splatters for oily dishes it can take mere seconds to cause a fire. Keep your oven and stove clean especially from oily spills. Grease fires can be extinguished by turning off the heat and smothering the fire with a metal lid. Use a metal lid because glass lids will shatter.  You can also sprinkle baking soda or salt on the fire but no other baking product. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you attempt to put out a grease fire using water. This can cause the hot oil to explode and throw burning oil over the area. You can also use a dry chemical fire extinguisher if you have one.

Portable cooking appliances like toasters and electric griddles can also cause fires. Don’t leave them unattended and make sure they are cool to the touch before storing them away. Stay in the kitchen while cooking or if you really must leave, keep checking in on the food. Don’t leave your food unattended. Also keep combustibles such as oven mitts, dish towels, and paper towels far away from heat sources.

2. Heating appliances

Space/room heaters are the next largest cause of house fires. These fixtures during the cold season pose some danger when precaution is not taken. They can cause a fire when left too close to fabrics and other flammables. Never dry clothes next to heaters or leave them too close to them. Also, make sure the heater is at least one meter away from drapes, furniture, and you.

If you are using open fires like firewood to warm your home, never leave such a fire unattended, and be sure to keep fuel sources and anything flammable away from the heat source. If you’re using a jiko, make sure the room is well ventilated and the fire is completely out when you go off to sleep.

If you’re using a fireplace for heating, make sure it’s regularly maintained. Have a chimney sweep and fireplace inspector visit at least once a year.

3. Electrical fires

Most electric fires occur because of short circuits causing sparking that ignites nearby materials or from overloaded circuits that then cause wires to overheat. Properly installed electrical systems are safe but old faulty wiring systems can be susceptible to short circuits and overloading.

If you live in an older house from about ten years old, get it checked by an electrician. Cabling also ages. Also, don’t attempt to perform your own electrical repairs and improvements on your own unless you have the relevant experience.

  • Replace any cracked, damaged, or loose electrical cords.
  • Plug major appliances directly into the wall instead of using an extension cord. Use extension cords only temporarily until you’re able to get a qualified electrician to install more power sockets.
  • Keep any flammable material away from outlets so they do not trigger a fire.
  • Replace any wall outlets that do not fit snugly into the wall.
  • Use power strips and surge protectors that are labelled by a recognized testing lab.
  • Don’t overload your home’s electrical outlets.
  • If an appliance blows a fuse, trips a circuit or sparks while being used unplug the appliance immediately and check to see if it needs to be repaired or replaced.
  • Keep heat-producing appliances like kettles, curling wands, toasters, and irons unplugged when not in use. When they malfunction or are accidentally left on for an extended period they can overheat and catch on fire.
  • Don’t plug in devices with damaged power cords. Get them repaired before further use.
  • Don’t ignore signs of trouble like burn marks or discolouration around a socket, light switch or light fixture, an appliance or outlet or power cord feels hot to the touch, a burning smell when an item is plugged in or in use, electrical sparks each time you plug in a device, fuses regularly blow or when your breakers frequently trip.
4. Smoking

Cigarettes and other smoking materials account for about 5% of house fires and are particularly deadly. Never place an ashtray near anything that will burn. Make the bedroom off-limits to smoking and never ever forget to extinguish your cigarette. Smoking in bed is especially dangerous. All it takes is a single ashtray to ignite a mattress, blanket, carpet, or piece of clothing. If you must smoke do it outdoors and if you have to do it indoors, do it over a sink or while using an ashtray to reduce the risk of starting a fire. Also if you smoke indoors, check the furniture for fallen cigarettes/embers (a butt can smoulder for hours before causing furniture to burst into flames).

5. Candles

Keep them in a sturdy holder when in use, on a level surface and away from children and pets. Always blow them out before leaving an unoccupied room.

Keep matches and lighters away from children. Also safely store any flammable liquids present in your home. Store all fuels and chemicals in their proper locations and in areas protected from heat. Follow instructions to the letter when using kitchen gas. Here’s to staying safe in our homes.

Still, on home, check out this piece on the pros and cons of using solar energy in your home.

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