Common Causes of House Fires And What To Do
In all the confusion, it’s easy to be unsure about what to do after a house fire. An accidental fire in the house can strike at any time, and it is frightening and potentially devastating.
Before we get to that, however, here are some fire facts that you need to know:
✔️ Fire spreads FAST. A small flame can turn into a life threatening fire in less than 30 seconds. Your home can be engulfed in flames or be filled with thick, black smoke within minutes
✔️ Fire is HOT. Of course, we know this. But just how hot is hot? At floor levels, a fire can reach a temperature of 100°F and rise to 600°F at eye level. This superheated air will melt the clothes on your skin and scorch your lungs.
✔️ Fire produces BLACK SMOKE. Fires start out bright, however, in minutes it can produce dark smoke and plunge your home into complete darkness. This is why it turns deadly when you fail to get out in time. The black smoke disorients people making it difficult to find the exit safely.
✔️ Fire KILLS! More lives are lost from asphyxiation from toxic gases than burns. People die because the poisonous gases produced in fires can cause disorientation and drowsiness.
Even if a fire is put out quickly, the resulting damage can cost thousands of dollars to the homeowner. Having an insurance policy that can cover the damages and help mitigate financial losses due to a house fire is essential.
However, prevention is still the best defense against fires. Knowing the common causes of house fires can help you assess risks so you can take steps to lower the chances of a fire starting in your home.
Here are the most common fire starters in your home:
Did you know that 48% of residential fires are cooking-related fires? Here are the usual suspects:
Grease. Fires often ignite from grease that had become overheated on a stove or in the oven. It’s a highly flammable ingredient that can spontaneously combust when it reaches a temperature of about 600°F - even without direct contact with flames. Once grease catches fire, it is difficult to put out.
Portable cooking appliances. Common household appliances like the toaster or electric griddle can be potential sources of fire. Crumbs left in the toaster or bits of food burned into the electric griddle can ignite and cause a fire.
Barbeque Grills. It’s important to not leave your grill unattended, especially if it’s positioned near a wooden fence, a wooden deck, or near the exterior wall of your home. A hot grill can cause fire.
The second leading cause of fires in the home are heating appliances. This includes space heaters or baseboard heaters. They can cause fires if fabrics or other combustible materials are left too close to them.
Heaters with fuel such as kerosene are especially hazardous. When left unattended, they can ignite or blow up. Electrical heaters, on the other hand, can cause fires due to faulty electrical wiring. When operating electrical heaters, make sure that curtains or other fabrics do not come in contact with coils as these can ignite and cause fires.
Residential fires due to faulty electrical wiring account for about 10% of home fires. Sadly, it is also one of the most deadly. About 19% of deaths from home fires are due to electrical fires.
Electrical fires are especially dangerous because they often occur in locations not readily seen. They often start as a spark that ignites building materials or from overloaded circuits that cause wires to overheat.
Because they are often in walls or hidden locations, they are already major fires before residents become aware of them. Often, electrical fires start while residents are sleeping.
Smoking is not only bad for your health, it can potentially be dangerous for your home as well. While fire caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials only account for only about 5% of home fires, it accounts for 23% of all fire deaths. This is because fires of this nature occur when the resident falls asleep.
While smoking inside the home is dangerous because cigarette butts dropped on carpets, furniture, and other combustible materials can cause fires, it is most hazardous when done in the bed. Stray ash can readily ignite mattresses, bed sheets, or your clothing.
If you must, smoke outside or over the sink with an ashtray ready to reduce fire risks.
Candles are nice and can add a beautiful glow to your home during the holidays or special occasions, however, they are fire hazards. It does not matter if they are made from beeswax, soya oil, or paraffin, they can ignite and cause fires.
When lighting candles, make sure that the candle flame is at least 12 inches away from any materials that can catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended and always extinguish the flame after use.
Keep the lighter or matches used to light candles in a safe place, away from anywhere where children can reach them.
Better yet, opt for battery operated flameless luminaries. Better quality ones look remarkably real. They even flicker like real candles do.
Speaking of holidays, another source of fire are Christmas trees. Real evergreen trees, though beautiful, will dry out. By the end of the holiday season, they may be so dry that they can ignite easily. Once the tree catches fire, flames can easily engulf a room within seconds.
Artificial trees made of vinyl or plastic may be the safer choice. Take care to test your string lights, however, for any breaks in the wires. Replace your old incandescent bulb string lights with those with LED bulbs which do not create as much heat as the old style Christmas lights.
Regardless if your tree is real or artificial, don’t forget to unplug the Christmas tree lights when you’re not at home or when you go to sleep.
Chemical fires are not as common in homes compared to industrial or commercial locations, however, there may be some chemicals that we store in our garage or elsewhere in the house which can cause fires.
Examples of these are gasoline (which you may use to power your lawn mower) and other petroleum liquids. These can spontaneously combust or ignite when they come in contact with an open flame.
It’s important to store these liquids in places that are protected from heat to prevent them reaching flash point temperature. It’s also important to store these chemicals away from pilot lights or ignition sources.
Never store gasoline or petroleum liquid in just any container. Use the approved container to reduce risk of fires. Remember to keep the container no more than 95% full to allow for vapors to expand without causing the rupture.
Dryer Vent Fires
Clothes dryers are one of the most hard working appliances in our home. However, did you know that the dryers, more specifically, the dryer vent is a common source of fire? This is due to the lint that builds up in the vents.
A clogged dryer vent provides the perfect environment for a fire - fuel in the form of highly combustible lint plus heat from the dryer. When conditions are right, the lint can ignite and cause a dryer vent fire.
What To Do After a House Fire
Taking precautions will certainly reduce the risk of house fires, but fires are unpredictable and you may find yourself having to deal with an aftermath of one despite taking safety measures.
A house fire, even a minor one, can affect you profoundly. It can be an emotional time and you may find yourself overwhelmed by what to do after a house fire. However, during this critical time, it’s important to keep calm so you can take care of your family and begin the process of fire damage cleanup.
Here, Five Star Restoration gives you this useful “To Do” checklist after a house fire. We hope this sets you on the right path to recovery as you move towards restoring your home.
Call family and friends
This may sound basic, but in the aftermath of a fire, you may even be too overwhelmed to do so. Contact family members who may not have been home when the fire happened, as well as other family or friends to let them know of what happened. Most importantly, let them know that you are safe.
Arrange for a safe place to stay
A house fire is understandably a traumatic experience, especially for children and pets. Having a place where the family can rest comfortably and safely will be helpful as you plan your next steps after a house fire.
If staying at a hotel or with family or friends is not possible, you may reach out to local disaster relief agencies like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army. Often, these organizations can arrange for temporary shelter, free of charge.
Make your property secure
Your home may be damaged but it is still vulnerable to both the weather and unlawful entry. However, before you do so, it’s important to ensure that it’s safe to enter. You need permission from the local Fire Department before you can enter your home after a fire.
You may need to board up windows, doors, or other openings with plywood or cover holes in the roof or walls with tarp to prevent damage from the weather.
Call your utility providers - gas, electricity and water
Call them to inform them of the fire and to arrange for repair and reconnection after your home is repaired. Do not attempt to reconnect or turn on the supply yourself.
Contact your insurance company
It’s important to call your provider to start a claim. You may be able to address your immediate needs depending on your insurance coverage. “Loss of use” clause in your policy may cover your living expenses and other daily expenses.
Your insurance agent can provide assistance on how you can secure your property (if you haven’t done so, yet) and also recommend cleaning and restoration companies.
In addition, your insurance company may send an adjuster to your property to evaluate the fire damage to your home. Based on the adjuster’s assessment, your insurance company will decide if your home can be saved, or if it must be gutted and rebuilt.
Contact a restoration company
Call a trusted restoration company like Five Star Restoration so you can begin fire damage repair.
Obtain a copy of the fire report from the Fire Department
This report is useful in providing information needed by your insurance company.
Conduct an inventory of damaged property and items
While this may be time consuming, it’s important to document all fire damage. Take photos of the damage and make detailed notes.
We recommend keeping a notebook or a binder to organize all your notes and any pertinent information connected with the fire damage in your home. Save all receipts for all your fire loss related expenses, as well. These may be needed by your insurance company in relation to your claim.
Recover valuable possessions left undamaged by the fire
Sort through your belongings and find items that may be salvageable. These may include items or documents that were saved by a fire-proof box. Any undamaged items should be put in a safe place (possibly even in storage) during the fire damage restoration process.
Notify your local police department
If your home will not be occupied during the restoration process, it’s advisable to notify the police so it remains safe during your absence. An empty home can attract squatters or looters even in its damaged state.
Don’t forget your finances
Regardless of the house fire, your financial obligations will continue. While insurance policies may cover mortgages, some recurring costs may not be covered. It’s important to keep up with payments.
If you won’t be going back to your home for several months, cancel any cable and internet services.
If the fire was particularly catastrophic, it’s possible you may have lost things like cooking equipment and clothing, as well. Make sure that any expenses you incurred when replacing these items are properly supported with receipts. This ensures that your expenses can be quickly reimbursed.
These are just a few of the other things you may need to do after a house fire.
Notify your children’s school to let them know that you suffered a fire.
Contact the post office to ask them to hold your mail or forward it to your temporary residence.
Replace valuable documents and records including driver’s licences, passports, birth/marriage/death certificates, divorce papers, property titles or deeds, income tax records, etc.
Need Help After a House Fire? Call the Experts
For expert fire damage restoration, contact Five Star Restoration. We will clean up and contain the damage in your home, saving you time and providing you peace of mind during this difficult time.
Call us at (951) 368-2227.
We have technicians ready to respond 24/7.
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