How to reduce the risk of a house fire

reduce risk house fire

Save your home from a house fire

Every year in Britain there are thousands of house fires, and most of these start accidentally. Most are minor, with no injury or even a need to call out the fire services, but a small number are more serious, even fatal.  The risk of fire lurks almost everywhere in the home so it’s important that you know how you can reduce the chance of a fire starting in your home and reduce the risk of injury.

It is easy to imagine that it wouldn’t happen to you. And this is more likely to be the case if you are alert to the most common causes – most of them are avoidable – and take the necessary steps to protect your home and loved ones.

The 10 most common causes of house fires

Cooking

It is estimated 60% of house fires originate in the kitchen.  In Cambridgeshire last year cookers, rings/ hot plates and toasters were the main culprits.

It takes seconds for a kitchen fire to get out of control, with distraction and leaving cooking unattended as the most common reasons.  Stay in the kitchen when cooking, especially if using oil or high temperatures. Arrange your kitchen so that combustibles such as oven mitts, dish towels and paper towels are away from heat sources.

As for chip pan fires, the fire service advice is to ideally avoid them altogether.  If you use one never fill it more than one-third full with oil.  Most importantly, do not throw water on it if it ignites.  This creates an explosion of burning oil which will spread the fire, most probably over you.

Heating systems

We often forget about our home heating system.  Whether, gas, electric, wood or coal, they all need periodic maintenance checks to ensure they remain safe.

Every year consult a qualified technician to inspect your furnace, and a professional chimney sweeper to clean your chimney (in the UK there were over 4,000 chimney fires last year).  Keep portable heaters at least one metre away from anything flammable , and don’t use them to dry shoes or clothes. Install a carbon monoxide alarm to alert you to deadly carbon monoxide gas.

Smoking

Despite the falling number of smokers that is reported in the UK, smoking remains a major cause of fires in the home.

If you  smoke in the house make sure you use large, deep ashtrays.  Make the bedroom off-limits to smoking and supervise smokers who may become drowsy (i.e. on medication, drinking) or forget to extinguish their cigarette.  Never place an ashtray on or near anything that will burn and check furniture for fallen cigarettes or embers (a butt can smoulder for hours before causing furniture to burst into flames).

Electrical appliances

More than 2,400 fires  were started by faulty appliances or leads last year. across England. Overloading extension leads, damaged cables, plugs and sockets, all cause fires if ignored. Visually check these items occasionally; it takes seconds, but can save a lot of grief and costs.  Follow safe use advice on tumble dryers and dishwashers and always ask a qualified electrician to fit them.

Be careful about do-it-yourself electrical projects; many home fires are caused by improper installation, so use a licensed electrician. Look at these essential electricity safety rules concerning overloading, extension leads and more.  Don’t leave mobile phones and laptops charging for extended periods.

Candles

Candles are romantic and atmospheric, but ensure to use a  secure holder.  Keep candles in a sturdy holder on a level surface, away from combustible materials and out of the reach of children or inquisitive pets. Blow them out before leaving the room.

Children and fire

Children are often oblivious to their surroundings when absorbed in play.  They play with fire out of curiosity (what happens when something burns) or mischief (they’re angry, upset or destructive, and fire is a major rule to break).    Keep matches and lighters out of reach.

Old, inadequate wiring

If your house has not been rewired within the last 25-30 years, then it will likely need rewiring, at least in part. This is because the wiring in older properties is most likely unable to meet the demands of modern lifestyles. They are a potential safety hazard that can result in fires or electric shocks.

Signs of poor wiring:

  • You must disconnect one appliance to plug in another
  • Excessive use of extension cords or “octopus” outlets
  • Fuses blow or circuit breakers trip frequently
  • Lights dim when you use another appliance.

To ensure everything stays working as it should, it’s good practice to have your electrics professionally inspected every 10 years. On completion of this, the electrician will produce an EICR (electrical installation condition report).

Flammable liquids

Look in almost any home and you will find dozens of flammable products.  Lurking in cupboards and sheds you’ll find long forgotten liquid fuels, solvents, cleaning products, paint and thinners, cosmetics, adhesives and paints. Always check the manufacturer’s storage recommendations because these liquids can ignite or explode if stored incorrectly.

The vapours can easily ignite without a spark in high temperatures or from weak ignition sources (one spark of static electricity).  Don’t store flammable liquids near a heating source but, ideally, outside the home in a cool ventilated area, in approved containers.

Christmas tree decorations

Every year up and down the country someone’s Christmas is spoiled because of a fire due to faulty tree lights. The light connections and wiring are fragile and easily damaged, so be careful when storing them after use and make sure the wires are not near a heat source when in use.

Keep the trees fresh in a stand that will hold two to three litres of water, and top it up daily.  Keep the tree away from all heat sources, including radiators , furnace ducts, television sets and fireplaces. Check decorative lights before placing them on the tree, and discard any frayed or damaged lights/cords. Never place candles on or near the Christmas tree.

Firework, sparkler and bonfire safety

With the 5th November fast approaching, we want to alert you to the ROSPA guidance on safety.

Despite annual safety warnings, firework celebrations still end in painful injuries for too many people, including very young children.

Observe the Firework Code.

Dawn Giesler, is the founder of Scuseme Cambridge, a recommendation website that helps your family run smoothly. She has lived in Cambridge for over 20 years and offers advise based on her own experiences. For more information visit scuseme