10 Most Common Causes of U.S. House Fires

A spark neglected makes a mighty fire. – Robert Herrick

Fire is an ever present threat to American homes.

A simple unattended stove or burning candle can ignite an unstoppable fuse that can destroy your American Dream.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, an estimated 374,000 U.S. homes catch fire annually. The cumulative damage is jaw-dropping. The price tag: Almost $8 billion annually. According to Global Reconstruction, 2,600 lives are lost from house fires each year.  Another 12,975 people are injured.

The key to home fire prevention is knowing their most common causes and insulating our homes against the greatest fire hazards. Working smoke detectors in the kitchen and on every floor are a must for every American home.

There are hundreds of causes of fires (including arson, which accounts for 5 percent of house fires), but here’s the NFPA’s Top 10 Preventable Causes of U.S. House fires:

  1. Cooking: All it takes is an unsupervised oven. The NFPA reports a whopping 40 percent of house fires are cooking related.
    Never leave a stove unattended, maintain a three-foot buffer between you and a hot stove always and always keep a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
  2. Kids Playing with Fire: Kids are naturally curious about fire, but it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt or the house catches on fire. Parents should ensure young children don’t have access to matches, lighters and easily flammable liquids and materials. All children’s activities involving fire should be supervised and children should be educated on the dangers of fire.
  3. Smoking: For many Americans, enjoying a cigarette or cigar in their favorite chair is a relaxing way to unwind after a long day at work. Smoking inside is also extremely dangerous to your home’s health. Fall asleep in your chair while smoking and you may wake up seeing your living room in flames. An unattended burning cigarette in an ash tray or a just a few fallen ashes on carpet can ignite a serious blaze in your home. Smoking in homes is extremely discouraged.
  4. Heating: The source of 16 percent of U.S home fires (according to Global Reconstruction) and a leading cause of home fires during the winter. Space heaters (both electrical and fuel-based) are extremely flammable and can easy overload. Keep them away from furniture and appliances.
    Another leading heat-related cause of fires is aging and malfunctioning furnaces. Make sure your furnace is inspected annually.
  5. Electrical: An overloaded circuit board and power cord or faulty extension cord can have your home smoking in short time. Be aware of the amount of watts you are plugging in to any extension cord. Have an electrician perform an annual inspection on your home’s wiring.
  6. Candles: They are a practical and cheap means of light and nothing sets the mood for a romantic or intimate dinner like candles, but nothing kills the buzz of romance faster than a knocked over candle setting the dining room table or living room on fire. We often forget candles are an open flame and an extreme fire hazard. Open flames cause six percent of American house fires (Global Reconstruction). Always ensure all candles are blown out before leaving the room or house or going to sleep.
  7. Fireplace: Perhaps the most obvious home fire risk, fireplaces can turn from trusted heating sources to ground zero of a house fire. Sparks and embers from uncovered fireplaces can easily travel across the room and quickly create flames. Unattended fires are the main cause of fireplace-centered house fires, but unmaintained, unclean and unserviced fireplaces fan the flames of the risk. Make sure your fireplace and chimney are inspected annually at the start of winter. Also, save your cooking over an open fire for camp and bonfires. Also, use all fire starting products like kindling with extreme caution.
  8. Dryers: They just don’t freshen and dry clothes. Dryers are loaded with debris, are highly flammable and can lead to laundry room fires.
    Improper dryer vents and venting can lead to dryer-related fires.
    The leading cause of dryer fires (92 percent): A failure to clean them. Dyers should be regularly cleaned and well-maintained, and professionally cleaned every 18-24 months.
    Be sure to remove the lint screen after every use. When lint filters aren’t adequately cleaned out, the dryer has to overwork to push hot air through a combustible clump of flammable lint. The outcome is rarely good.
    Also don’t forget dryer sheets are made out of very flammable material and must be kept secured in a dry location away from the dryer. 
  9. Flammable Products: Garages are Storage Central for all our stuff, but they are a supermarket of potential fires. Be sure all gasoline and oil used for lawn mowers and snowblowers are capped and kept away from other potential fire sources. For good practice, make sure no fuel-based gasoline products are kept in your home. Garbage debris (sawdust, oily rags, paint thinner, etc.) is also oxygen in wait for fires. Make sure all trash reciprocals are firmly covered and stored away from your home.
  10. Christmas Trees: Few things say Christmas like a live Christmas tree, but they are also a ticking time bomb if placed close to fireplaces, candles and other fire sources. Dry Christmas trees wrapped with lights and electrical cords are the greatest fire threat. When celebrating the holidays with a live Christmas tree, make sure it is well watered and leave the lights off when you are not home.
    Knowing where and how fires can start in your home is a huge step toward ensuring your American Dream doesn’t go up in flames.
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