It only takes a minute for everything you’ve worked for to go up in flames: that is why fire prevention is so important.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the fire department responds to a fire every 24 seconds in the United States. Additionally, structure fires occur every 63 seconds, a home fire every 87 seconds, and an outside fire every 53 seconds.
How can you keep your home and properties safe? During this year’s National Fire Prevention Week, we’ve broken down some of the most common causes of residential and commercial property fires, and outlined the best ways to prevent the unthinkable from happening.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) estimates that over 350,000 residential fires occur each year. Below is a breakdown of the most common causes and the easiest ways to prevent residential fires below.
Cooking and Fire Prevention
According to research from USFA, 50.7 percent of residential fires start due to cooking. Twenty-one percent of home fire deaths and 45 percent of injuries are the result of cooking gone wrong, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). How can you prevent a cooking fire?
- Pay attention. A watched pot may never boil, but it won’t set your home on fire, either. According to the NFPA’s report, 31 percent of home cooking fires are started due to unattended equipment.
- Do your research. Did you know that butter reaches its flash point at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, while olive oil will need nearly 600 degrees to ignite? The flash point, or the point at which an item of food or oil ignites, is extremely important information to know before you start cooking. The NFPA believes that 66 percent of home cooking fires begin because food or other cooking materials have caught on fire. The good news? Most oils reach their smoke point or the point at which they begin smoking, before their flash point, so you should know in advance if you need to take food off the heat.
According to the USFA, 9.4 percent of residential fires are caused by heating. In many cases, these fires are caused by portable heating devices, such as space heaters and baseboard heaters, which can ignite when fabrics or other combustibles are placed near them. Prevent heating-based fires by following these tips:
- Exercise caution when using a space heater. According to an article from The Spruce, “heaters that require fuel, such as kerosene, are especially dangerous, as they can ignite or blow up if not properly watched. Electric heaters can cause fires if the electrical wiring is faulty.”
- Remove any potential fire-starting materials. This refers to blankets, clothes, or draperies that could come in contact with the coils of the heater and start a house fire.
- Never leave the heater on and unattended. Try not to leave the room (or the house) when a space heater is running. Most fires begin when you’re not in the room and can’t do anything to stop them.
Electrical fires accounted for 6.8 percent of all residential fires in 2018, according to the USFA. Thankfully, there are easy ways to keep your family safe in your home. A 2018 article from Economical.com suggests the following:
- Unplug heat-producing appliances when they’re not being used. This isn’t to say that your kettle or curling iron will spontaneously combust one day if you leave it plugged in. However, it’s very easy to leave heat-generating appliances on by accident, and if a toaster, kettle, iron, or curling wand is left on by accident, it’s very easy for them to catch on fire. The safest way to prevent this electrical issue is to simply leave any appliances that heat up unplugged unless you’re using them.
- Don’t plug in a device with a damaged power cord. If you see a device with a cracked or frayed power cord, don’t use that device until you’ve had it repaired. It isn’t safe.
- Pay attention to warning signs. Electrical fires are often pre-dated by clear signs that homeowners don’t act on. These include:
- Burn marks or discoloration around sockets, switches or fixtures
- Appliances, outlets or power cords that feel hot when you touch them
- A burning smell when an appliance is used
- Electrical sparks when you plug in a device
- Electric shocks when you plug in a device
- A flickering light when you’ve already replaced the bulb
Fires in Commercial Buildings
Over 100,000 non-residential building fires occur each year, according to the USFA. While some of the causes for commercial fires are very similar to the causes of residential fires, the way you’ll need to handle them varies wildly. Here are some recommendations:
Just as with residential fires, most fires in commercial buildings begin in the kitchen. When it comes to preventing cooking fires in commercial buildings, the most important thing to do as an employer or property owner is to make sure the relevant safety measures are in place. Here are some expert recommendations on what to have in your office kitchen:
- Fire alarms and smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- Fire blankets
- Emergency lighting
- Sprinkler systems
- Fire doors
In addition to making sure that these protective measures are present, it’s important to give your team regular training in the correct way to use these devices. According to the USFA, 11.5 percent of all fires in commercial buildings are the result of carelessness, so it’s important to make sure your team is up to date on all the latest fire safety measures.
Fire Prevention against Arson
An intentional fire is often one of the most damaging, resulting in loss of life and many injuries. According to the fire experts at Smokeguard, “intentional fires are most likely to occur after working hours, between 3 pm to 12 am. Fires during later hours of the day often do far more damage than ones started during working hours, as there is no one available to sound an alarm. An arsonist may start a fire anywhere, but bathrooms, trashcans, dumpsters and garages are likely spots… Take care to include fire detection and prevention systems in unlikely places, such as behind the building.”
Whilst arson isn’t completely preventable, there are ways to lower the risk to your business. Smokeguard suggests:
- Emptying trash cans daily
- Keeping dumpsters away from the building
- Regularly trimming trees and shrubs
- Installing motion detector lights or cameras
- Installing smoke curtains near the doorways of any at-risk areas
In the Event of a Fire
Even if you’ve taken every precaution, it’s still possible to encounter a fire risk. What should you do if your property has been damaged by fire, even if the damage appears minor? The experts at SERVPRO suggest that your primary focus should be safety. Assess the situation, and ask yourself the following:
- Is it safe to stay in the building?
- Are there any electrical concerns?
- What activities are safe for me to perform?
- Are there any ‘slip and fall’ hazards near me?
While it’s impossible to completely prevent a fire from happening, the steps above can substantially reduce the risk. During this National Fire Safety Month, take a hard look at your home and work environments. Preventing a fire is much easier than handling the aftermath.