Friday, October 26, 2007
According to the National Fire Protection Association, home fires cause more than $5 billion in property damage each year, and more than 3,000 deaths. That's the bad news. The good news is that most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.
• Cooking fires. Cooking fires pose a serious hazard. Always stay near the stove when cooking. Avoid wearing loose sleeves while cooking; they can be ignited by a burner or a grease splatter. You'll also want to keep curtains and other flammable materials well away from the range or oven. And never put water on a grease fire, which can cause the hot grease to splatter, burning you or spreading the fire. Instead, smother it with a lid or another pan, then turn off the burner. Leave the lid in place until it has cooled off completely.
• Portable and space-heating equipment. Wood-burning, kerosene, propane and electric heaters can ignite draperies, clothing and other flammable items. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment. Shut off a heater before you leave the room or go to bed. When you purchase a heater, make sure it's been tested and approved by a reputable organization.
• Careless smoking. Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths. Never smoke in bed or in a place where you may fall asleep. Also, use deep ashtrays so a lit cigarette won't roll out and fall onto rugs or furniture. It's also a good idea to run water over an ashtray before emptying it into the trash. A smoldering cigarette butt could set the trash on fire.
• Electrical wiring. You can't see wires hidden inside walls and ceilings, but there are some warning signs of electrical problems. If lights dim or flicker, fuses blow frequently or sparks shoot from receptacles when items are plugged in or unplugged, consult an electrician. Faulty electrical cords can also spark a fire or cause an electrical shock. Never run cords under rugs or heavy furniture. Pressure can crack insulation and break the wires. Don't overload outlets.
• Children with matches. Children playing with matches or lighters are the leading cause of fire deaths for children 5 and under. Keep these items up high, preferably in a locked cabinet, out of the sight and reach of small children. Teach older ones how to handle matches responsibly.
• Holiday hazards. Decorations and candles are a special concern during the holidays. If you buy a live Christmas tree, choose a fresh one and water it daily. With an artificial tree, make sure it's made of flame-retardant materials. Keep candles well away from anything that can burn and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Fireworks also deserve special mention. They endanger life, limb and property. Avoid amateurs who set off fireworks. Instead, attend public displays conducted by trained pyrotechnicians. Even sparklers are hazardous; they burn at 1200 F.
There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to decrease your chances of a home fire:
• Never store or use gasoline in the home. Gasoline is a motor fuel only. Keep small quantities in an approved container designed to store gasoline, and store outside, preferably in a locked, detached shed. Wipe up spills immediately and never refuel motors near heat sources, sparks or cigarettes.
• Don't overload electrical receptacles.
• Don't use light bulbs with greater wattages than a fixture can handle.
• Don't let combustible materials such as newspapers and rags pile up in basements and garages.
• Leave plenty of air space around appliances and television sets; they can overheat and catch fire.
• Use outdoor gas and charcoal grills with caution. Keep them away from structures, particularly when in use. Never add materials to the fire.