The Worst Fire Hazards Are the Ones You Don’t See

As this post is being written, the northern hemisphere finds itself in winter’s firm grip. Despite the many things to love about winter, there are some definite disadvantages – including a higher risk of residential fires. And unfortunately, fire hazards abound in so many homes. The worst among them are the ones that are not seen.

It turns out that more home fires occur during the winter months than any other time of year. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) half of all home heating fires occur in December, January, and February. Heating equipment is involved in 1 out of every 6 residential fires. Unfortunately, such fires account for 20% of residential fire deaths.

All of this is to say that being more cognizant of fire hazards during the winter months should be a given. Not seeing fire hazards that should otherwise be fairly evident only puts a home’s residents at a higher risk. Here is the bottom-line question: are you aware of the fire hazards in your own home?

Home Heating Equipment

Given that half of all residential fires during the winter months are related to home heating equipment, this is a good place to start any discussion about fire hazards in the home. Built-in furnaces and heating units are typically safe when in good working order. The real hazards lie in wood burning stoves, electric heaters, and kerosene space heaters.

Wood burning stoves can easily become hazards if they are not kept clean. Prior to the start of the heating season, a chimney should be inspected and checked for excessive creosote. Any obstructions should be removed.

Electric heaters can become hazards when a home’s electrical system is not properly rated to accommodate them. You need to remember that electric heaters draw a lot of current. They can start a fire if the current is more than a circuit can manage.

Both electric and kerosene space heaters are dangerous when placed too close to flammable items. Though experts recommend not using such space heaters, people who do choose to use them should give them plenty of room. They should never be placed in close proximity to window treatments, furniture, or anything else that could catch on fire.

Cooking Hazards Abound

While home heating equipment accounts for half of all residential fires during the winter months, the leading cause overall is cooking. Cooking hazards abound in most kitchens. For example, how often have you walked away from open pots or pans on a hot stove?

Open pots and pans, especially those that contain grease, become a fire hazard when left unattended. Grease itself can be a particular threat if it gets too hot. If the temperature in a pot of grease gets too high, the grease can spontaneously combust.

Above and beyond pots and pans, flammable materials placed too close to a stovetop or oven become a hazard. It is important that stove tops be kept clear of anything that could catch on fire. Something as simple as a countertop paper towel dispenser sitting right next to the stove is dangerous.

Potential Electrical Hazards

Home heating equipment and poor cooking practices account for most of the hazards related to residential fires. But there are still other hazards that may not seem so obvious. Electrical hazards come to mind.

Vivint Smart Home recently published a post about fire hazards in the home. They talked about electrical hazards along with other concerns. Here are just some of the things their post mentioned:

  • Overloading Circuits – Plugging too many devices into a single outlet can lead to overloading the circuit. The wiring inside the wall can overheat, thereby starting a fire that a resident may not notice until it is already out of control.
  • Bad Wiring – Improperly installed or damaged wires can easily start electrical fires. Bad wiring is one of the big culprits behind house fires that start in the attic. Animals get in, chew on the wires, and start fires.
  • Appliances – Believe it or not, appliance fires are fairly common. Take the typical clothes dryer. Not keeping a dryer’s exhaust clear of lint allows the surprisingly flammable substance to build up. Given enough time, dry lint can ignite.

With electrical fires, it is all about knowing how electricity and the devices we connect to it can contribute to residential fires. Unfortunately, most people do not understand how electricity works. They don’t understand the inherent dangers of electric services and appliances.

Open Flame Hazards

Yet another area of consideration is the open flame. Open flames should always be treated cautiously regardless of their location in or outside. Indoors, open flames are in danger of furniture, draperies, accumulations of paper, and inflammable liquids. And when it comes to open flames, candles are almost always the source.

This is not to say that candles should be avoided. Rather, they should be treated with respect. Lit candles should be kept clear from anything that could catch fire. They should also be watched at all times. It is unwise to light candles and then leave the room.

Be as Safe as Possible

The point of this post is not to suggest that it is possible to eliminate all fire hazards from a home. It’s not. The point is to encourage readers to be as safe as possible. Those hazards one can avoid should be avoided. For example, no one needs to put a pot on the stove and walk away.

Other hazards will always be present. There is nothing consumers can do about them. But anyone can be safer by following simple fire safety tips. Those tips include keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, making sure that smoke alarms are installed and operable, and developing an evacuation plan.

Winter is the time of year when fire departments respond to more residential fires. Be especially vigilant about fire potential during December, January, and February. Now is a good time to take a tour of your own home and look for fire hazards you previously missed.

Leave a Comment