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Home Fire Safety

home-fire-safety

At home, in less than 30 seconds a small flame can become completely out of control and quickly rage into a major fire. Many of the materials, fabrics, and furniture in your home are susceptible to rapid development into a house fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house or for it to become engulfed in flames. Most deadly fires occur in the home when people are asleep…

Here’s what you need to know:


 

The Heat Of A Fire

Heat is more threatening than flames. A fire’s heat alone can kill.

Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level! Inhaling this super-hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt clothes to your skin. In five minutes, a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once: this is called flashover.

 

The Pitch Black Of A Fire

You may think of a fire as bright, however, fire starts bright but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. Pitch Black. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to find your way around the home you’ve lived in for years…

 

Smoke And Toxic Gas Of A Fire

Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire uses up the oxygen that you need to breathe, and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented and short of breath. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames even reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape…

 

Before a fire, create a fire escape plan

Find two ways to get out of each room. If the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke, you will need a second way out. A secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows (this may be very important to have in your bedroom – depending on your home layout). The following window escape ladder is widely considered to be the best for home use:
X-IT Emergency Fire Escape Ladder

Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly, and you may need a chair or something to be able to climb up and out.

Practice feeling your way out of the house, low to the floor in the dark or with your eyes closed.

 
Note: Sleep with the bedroom door closed.

Note: Always keep a fire extinguisher nearby and in the bedroom.

Note: When traveling and staying overnight somewhere other than your own home, consciously look around the premises and decide where and how you would escape a fire.

 

Dual Sensor Smoke Alarm

Be sure to have ‘dual sensor’ smoke alarms throughout the house. The following article describes why this is important:
Dual Sensor Smoke and Fire Alarm, and Why They Are The Best

Note: Smoke Alarms DO HAVE A SHELF LIFE

 

DURING A FIRE

Crawl low under any smoke to your exit – heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.

When the smoke alarm sounds, get out fast. You may have only seconds to escape safely.

If there is smoke coming around the door or blocking your door or first way out, use your second way out.

Smoke is toxic. If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your way out.

Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, leave the door closed and use your second way out.

If you open a door, open it slowly. Be ready to shut it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present.

If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll – stop immediately, drop to the ground, and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out.

 
Question: Have any of you experienced a house fire or know someone who has?
What were the lessons learned?

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43 Comments

  1. We have dual sensor smoke and fire alarms as well as carbon monoxide alarms in every bedroom, kitchen, hot water heater room and furnace room. These are all hardwired with battery backup. We change the batteries every May 1 whether or not they need it!

    We have fire extinguishers in the kitchen, hot water room and furnace room as well as one in the “office/library”.

    We have removed most (not all) of the combustible materials from within 30 feet of the house, which is built of steel. We installed a sprinkler system on the roof when we built. Spark arresters on wood burning furnace and wood burning hot tub fire box.

    Feel fairly confident we will be ok. Insurer recently did a review because of Colorado’s fire danger, and we passed with flying colors.

    Keep planning folks. AND, practice makes perfect.

    Thank you Ken for the article…very timely, especially rural Canada. I wish those folks well.

    1. @ pioneer woman

      You have done a GREAT job of recognizing the risks of a fire.

      I just wanted to say a little, and I know it’s none of my business but…

      The Fire Extinguishers you have in the “hot water room and furnace room” assuming those are two different rooms, May be better placed somewhere else. Here is why, a LOT of fires are caused by Furnaces and Water Heater malfunctions. Two problems arise, if the fire starts in one of those two rooms, you will not be able to get to the F-E’s, Second, you will NOT want to open the door to the rooms if there is a fire behind the door.

      Suggestion, you would be much better off placing the F-E’s in less likely fire starting places; IE the bedrooms or living/TV rooms.

      Second word, if the fire is of any magnitude, just get out, trying to fight a fire can be fatal if it gets out of hand, plus the Chemicals in a F-E will suck the breath right out of you, making it impossible to breath, a SMALL fire sure, but please use caution.

      Just my 2¢ worth
      NRP

      1. Thanks! The extinguishers are JUST inside the doors on the opening edge….both rooms are also equipped with exhaust fans than can draw the heat/flames away from the door, and THOSE switches are OUTSIDE the rooms! Just like the light switches.

        Both DH and I are first responder trained, and keep our GEAR up to date and in the outbuilding. Where we have additional fire extinguishers!

        But, I DO appreciate your thoughts. Thank you as always NRP.

    2. When the house was about eight years old I replaced the builder grade (cheap) smoke alarms with smoke/CO detectors. All backup batteries are now lithium 9V.
      If the bedroom door is closed, a CO detector in the hall doesn’t do a lot of good. If you have forced air ventilation, the blower will distribute CO throughout the house. I got the foamy fire extinguishers in a can from Lowe’s. Easier to clean up after than the dry chemical type.

  2. Great article Ken. Timely as we enter Fire Season here in the west. Time to cut the brush away from the walls and fences on our property.

  3. Very good advise Ken. We went threw a house fire in the early 80’s. We had been heavily criticized by several people for wasting money by putting in good sized basement windows. If we had put in the small windows as suggested we’d have probably lost two of our children. Don’t cut corners!!!

  4. A good friend lost his home to a chimney fire years back. The mortar degraded between the bricks in the section that went thru the attic. Creosote caught fire and the fire got in to the attic. The fire department was there in minutes but by then it was raging.

    There were explosions so they thought it was ammo cooking off. It was his #10 cans of wheat and other food storage blowing up from the heat. Only thing survived was his 2 gun safes. They told him to wait 3 days before opening them. They stayed in his separate work shop while they had the house rebuilt. No fireplace in the rebuilt house. They had really good insurance. That saved them.

    A fire during grid down or SHTF would be just devastating to go through.

    A good idea to keep backup supplies in another area just in case.

    I read an interesting article where many kitchen fires are started in people’s “junk drawers”. The ones where you throw all the stuff that doesn’t have a home. The 9 volt batteries were the culprit! Something hitting both terminals at once catching fire in the drawer. I make sure I store them properly so it can’t happen.

    1. Exploding #10 cans? I hadn’t thought of that – but makes sense… There would be a-lot of popping going on in my place then ;)

      Which brings up what might happen to one’s ammo storage – particularly for those who store what others might consider ‘a-lot’…

      1. Ammo, propane, gas, diesel. Sometimes we get complacent about how we handle/store them.

        This a good reminder to recheck our flammable preps and take proper precautions.
        Thanks Ken…

        1. Propane jugs were a problem for me. NFPA requires them to be kept not in an enclosed location, but outdoors in a fully ventilated steel rack. Probably a good idea. But the purpose made racks that hold 6 20 pounders from ULine, Grainger etc. were all $750 and up.

          However a raised, galvanized, weld-wire, large folding dog kennel — $35 on Craigslist — holds 5 20 pound jugs. Works for me.

    2. Shhh, on the 9 volt batteries. It’ll be the next thing to require a license, background check and 10 day waiting period. 9 volt batteries were a personal favorite pastime when I was about ten. Daisy chain them together, mechanically in series, to create super high voltages. Take a little tuft of #1 steel wool and lay it across the terminals… POOF! Short it with a 10 ohm resistor and you have a long lasting hand warmer in the winter.

      Some online vendors even have a tiny LED module that snaps right to the top of a 9v for light.

      Come to think of it — As a prepper item, 9 volt batteries could be quite handy.

  5. Being in the construction field for as long as I have and doing LOTS of Insurance Claim work, I have seen literally hundreds of Fire jobs and the aftermath. One word…. FRIGHTENING!!!!!!

    The destruction, devastation and yes death at times will make a grown man cry, literally will break the soul at times.
    Your article is absolutely correct, most people die or are severely burned because of the Smoke disabling/disorientating the person; then being trapped.

    The Heat produced by some house fires, from my eye-witnessing will literally melt steel and make concrete and block explode.

    Install Smoke Detectors, Test them every 3 months, Replace the batteries every year, and replace the directors every 5 years. Install the BEST Smoke and CO detectors you can find. These things are cheap compared to one’s life.
    NRP

    1. It’s one of those things that people don’t ever think will possibly happen to them (because for most, that’s correct). It’s ‘normalcy bias’. BUT, IF IT DOES… you better be prepared. Is a life worth the cost of a few smoke detectors, a 2nd-story window escape ladder, etc..? It’s cheap insurance, but is often overlooked (as well as changing the batteries!).

    2. The HEAT from a house fire or brush fire surrounding is EXACTLY why we installed a roof sprinkler system (on our steel home). Our outbuildings are also steel, and also protected the same way. And if we lose power, the generators are available!

      Fire can be a vicious animal. And we have livestock and birds to protect. They come before any structure!

    3. NRP, good advice. I personally had trouble with the detectors that had the long life non replaceable batteries. They are supposed to be good for ten years then you tossed them out. Client got them at H.D.Battery and had circuit failures. They wouldn’t test. Better to use 120volt with battery backup detectors. My fireman buddy told me if you can’t get a fire under control in 60 seconds with a F.E GET OUT!

  6. Around 1972-73 I was a volunteer fireman. This was during the fuel shortage. We got a call of a barn fire. By the time we hot there it was pretty much gone but the farmer was crying,”save my hogs, save my hogs.” We were putting water on it but being out in the county with limited water source (we did have a tanker) when BOOM a 55 gal. drum of fuel exploded. The farmer started crying, (save my gas, save my gas.”

    We found out that there were 9 more drums. Yes the most dangerous area for firemen is the kitchen with exploding cans.

    Several years ago I went to a boat supply auction. There were 10 heat activated bilge fire extinguishers they look about the size of half of a volleyball. I bought all of them for about $5.00 each. 4 are in my garage 2 in my shed 2 in the laundry room. They look ugly but we sleep better!

  7. I have 3 fire extinguishers scattered around the house, 3 more in the garage and one in my truck. I need to get one for my wife’s truck. They can come in handy when you are away from home too.

    1. I’ve carried one in my truck for years, and I’ve had several strange looks and questions about it. I don’t expect to be able to grab it and use it for my own truck on fire (though I might), but I’ll have it in case a car near me is on fire. I’d rather be able to help someone escape a burning car with a fire extinguisher than know that they’re burning and I can’t get to them.

  8. I have an extinguisher for my home with smoke detectors, and smaller extinguishers for the boat and car to be covered where ever I go. I have seen cars catch fire and no one had an extinguisher and they exploded when left too long, and I saw boats go up in a blaze of glory on the water without one when I was a volunteer firefighter in rural Louisiana. Luckily no lives were lost but by the time we got to the scenes it was too late. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of guilt.

  9. Thankfully we have never had to deal with a fire. But my wife, (that I love dearly) is very good at testing the fire alarms at least once a month when she’s cooking. If she was on here she would say the same. It’s a on going joke in our household.

    Adapt and Overcome.

    1. No need. It’s been on every news cycle for the past 5 days. My former job took me to Ft Mac once. Halloween, a few years back. Already 30″ of snow on the ground and temps near 0F. Ft. Mac is the end of pavement in North America. 2 km north of town and you are on iced gravel all the way to the pole.

      It’s hard to imagine conditions up there ever being suitable to sustain a fire. While on the subject… how about those lines of stuck cars trying to get out of Dodge? Backed up for ten plus miles. And that was just a smallish mining town in the middle of nowhere. Now multiply that times, Los Angeles… with much less friendly people. -shiver-. Glad I’m home now.

  10. I made enchiladas for Cinco de Mayo! But to stay on subject, we almost needed a fire extinguisher! ?

  11. We have fire ext.’s everywhere. I used to get the ones from where I worked that had been discharged, and also various ones from old campers that I had scrapped out. I had a buddy of mine that works for a Co. that does restaurant fire systems recharge them for me. I bought him lunch for his help. So essentially I bartered an order of General Tso’s chicken for several hundreds of $$$ worth of fire ex’s.???
    I also have an old school one that you refill with water and pressurize it with compressed air. I use that one when burning brush etc. It will shoot water about 30 feet away.

  12. It is commonly accepted that the leading cause of home fires in Southern California comes from aging wiring in the attic. My house is typical, built in the 50’s had non-grounded, cloth covered wiring. After so many thermal cycles the 1950’s wire nut nuts work loose, and arc occurs and catches the attic on fire.

    This almost happened at my place in 2004. My wife phoned to reported the sound of “bacon sizzling” in the ceiling any time she turn on a particular light fixture. I went up in the attic that night and the wiring was frightening. There was black arc evidence on several joints.

    Anyway, as I tend to do, I took on the whole job at once and rewired my entire house. Every circuit. Plus a couple dozen more because I so loathe those electrical strips on the floor. Along the way I learned of the magic of the AFCI breaker. Not to be confused with GFCI, these are “Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter” breakers.

    These breakers cost about ten times what a normal breaker costs. But they have a built-in processors that ‘listens’ on the line for any evidence of an arc fault developing, then it trips. It takes only a minuscule amount of current. But if it is in any kind of arc condition – *Click*, off goes the breaker with a blinking fault indicator light.

    If I understand the technology correctly, these devices should practically eliminate the danger of arc-induced attic fires. My box is full of them; as well as sweet, new 12/3 Romex.

    Could be cheap insurance/assurance for older homes. And of course, consult a real electrician before doing anything like this, because I may actually be full of crap. Anecdotally however, I’ve had zero electrical problems or concerns since the retrofit.

    Oh! One caveat… AFCI’s don’t seem to play nice with heavy motor loads. Laundry room and such with have to be conventionally set up.

    1. I had AFCI breakers for the bedroom circuits when the house was built. Both failed within a few years. A lot of arc fault problems could be avoided if contractors stopped back-wiring residential grade devices and used the screw terminals. The spec grade devices where you stick a wire in a hole and tighten a screw create less trouble.

    2. McGyver68, if you want to see a light show in an attic go into an old house with knob and tube wiring system. The wires put off a glow! The ceramic insulators are the only thing that kept those old houses from burning down. Most were 60 amp services. I have replaced a few of them. Crazy to see power come straight off the meter with no service disconnect to the old bar or screw in fuse boxes. Scary to think folks would put penny’s in when a fuse kept blowing.

  13. One last, potentially useful thought. There is a type of automatic fire suppression system that I use in three locations around the house where flammables and other potentially hazardous items are stored. They weigh about 50 pounds and are shaped like a gigantic wheel of cheese. They are filled with dry chem and charged like any extinguisher. They have a sprinkler head with integral red liquid glass tube designed to rupture at 155F, thus releasing the dry chem and extinguishing the fire.

    It turns out, such devices are in high demand by folks engaged in illicit indoor horticulture. Supposedly their high intensity lamps cause frequent fires at typically unattended properties. They are in such high demand that the prices have fallen considerably. Garage has two, shed has one. It provides good peace of mind.

  14. Well, this article really hits home. In 1976 my first wife and I were both attending med school, I was one rotation ahead of her.

    I was working pediatrics one night and the local police came in and told me my house had burned. I went home and the house was completely burned. Our house was 6 blocks from the fire station and yet it was a total loss.

    That night still hurts; even after 40 years I still tear up. I lost my wife, our dogs, house and a fishing boat. Here is my lesson learned. The carpet, wall paint, carpet underlay foam, and bedding are nothing but fire accelerators. When carpet/foam and paint burn they produce a poison gas which will kill you faster than any regular wood smoke. The autopsy results were death by smoke inhalation.

    Since the house was a total loss, the arson investigators never really determined the cause of the fire. Today, you will never find carpet in our house. Our walls are all wood panels. I would never use a foam wall insulation, they produce a deadly gas when burned. No combustible chemicals are stored in or near the house. There is almost nothing plastic in our furniture, etc.

    I have learned that the construction industry will never tell a home owner how dangerous construction materials are. Now, back to work.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. Saying that it was a tragedy hardly sounds like it covers it enough. Thank you for sharing your thoughts from first-hand experience.

    2. I cannot even begin to imagine this. Although I can well imagine this may have been the genesis of your non-joking ways. My clear memory of 1976 involves a lot of deep shag carpet and ‘luxurious’ extra-thick padding. All of it, petro-chem sourced synthetic materials; like most of the 70’s actually.

      If there is to be any consolation for you, perhaps it will come in the untold lives you have saved over the past 40 years by drawing peoples attention to the inherent dangers of their everyday living.

      It’s all I’ve got. Speechless beyond that one thought. I am so sorry.

    3. I’m sorry, and I also feel your pain everyday. My mother and baby brother perished in a house fire. I had jus turned eleven and my brother and I were spending the night with grandma and grandpa. Makes you think about things differently. I can’t watch any movies or tv shows with fire even though I’m 57 years old.

    4. No Joke

      Sorry for your tragedy.

      What you say about foam, carpet, makes a lot of sense, and very good info to know. Also, it seems to me, that those very same things, are highly toxic off gassing “things”…- bad for health and breathing…

      Maybe someday Ken will do a post on best building materials…????????????

    5. No Joke and Miss I Made It Myself~

      I am so sorry for your losses…
      The Comforter continue to hold and uplift you
      (((hugs)))

      1. Thank you. I just wanted to emphasize with No Joke. Unless you’ve been there it’s hard to understand.

  15. Hi, I experience a fire a couple of years ago when I bought my first apartment. My girlfriend and I had just sat down to dinner when the smoke alarms went off. Upon walking into the kitchen we discovered that a bottle of oil had somehow been knocked over and spilt onto the stove which was still hot and had caught fire. I quickly went to grab a fire extinguisher whilst my gf called 911 but couldn’t find one in any of the hallways. In the end we decided to pull the fire alarm and evacuate…there was a lot of damage and we had o redo the kitchen and always kept fire extinguishers in our home afterwards.

  16. Hi had a fire last week after I left my iron A on a table to warm up. I had put it a bit near to a cardboard box and then popped down to the kitchen to get some laundry and came back to a fireball. I wasn’t really sure what to do so I went to the kitchen and picked up the fire extinguisher but really didn’t want to get powder everywhere!! Thought that as I had it in my hand anyway, it was better than the fire so pulled the pin and discharged the whole thing. Fire went out quite quickly but I couldn’t breathe so had to go outside and call 911!!

  17. We have fire extinguishers in the kitchen, hall and bedrooms now, since a small fire started cause by a lamp short circuiting at night. The bulb blew and apparently sent sparks flying, which set alight a smouldering fire on a sofa. Luckily our smoke alarms went off and I was able to shout FIRE and get everyone up, put the fire out with a fire extinguisher and sent everyone outside to get away from the smoke. We called the fire non emergency number since the fire was out, but they told us to just dial 911 and told me to evacuate too. They turned up and monitored the electrics and made it safe by clearing the smoke but all in all pretty scary!

  18. Had a fire once when staying abroad after forgetting that I had left some waffles frying. Saw flames as I walked into the kitchen so ran down the hall like a madman and grabbed the extinguisher and pushed the fire alarm. Fire went out fine but had a bit of a pulava dealing with a foreign fire brigade!

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