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One of the most harrowing experiences you can imagine involves flames licking through your home while you rush to evacuate your children and pets safely. House fires claim far too many lives and are often preventable.
However, if you hope to reduce your risk, you need to know what behaviors to take — and which to avoid. You might not realize all the hazards in your home. Here’s what you know about house fires to protect those you love.
1. Put Out That Cigarette
You have the right to smoke in your home, assuming you don’t rent and have a lease provision prohibiting it. However, if you want to decrease your fire risk, you’ll take it outside. One in 20 home fires result from cigarettes — and, more frighteningly, results in one out of four deaths.
Cigarettes increase fatality risk because many people doze off with a lit ember in hand or nearby. Those who smoke in bed only need to shift slightly to bring their blankets in contact with an ember. Old couches and carpeting can go up like well-seasoned cordwood.
The safest course is to smoke outside if you must. You won’t only decrease your risk of losing everything you own, including your life, but you’ll also keep your belongings from smelling like an ashtray. The aroma lingers, and when you go to sell, you may have to rip out drywall and floor coverings to make the structure marketable.
2. Turn Off the Stove
If you have set off the smoke alarm while you cook, you aren’t alone. However, please resist the urge to take out the battery in your nearest beeper. If you leave food unattended, it can catch on fire. Plus, anything from a cardboard box to a recipe card can blaze if it strays too close to the burner or a hot pan.
Another trick — please keep the handles of your pots and pans turned toward the back of the stove. Otherwise, wandering toddlers can grab one dangling over the edge of the stove out of curiosity and end up with third-degree burns.
3. Be Space Heater-Savvy
Space heaters can save you money on fuel oil by heating only those rooms of the home that you use. However, they can also lead to fire tragedies.
Please, never leave a space heater unattended — always turn it off and unplug it before leaving a room. Don’t use it to warm your snow-damp socks, but instead keep the surrounding area free of clutter. It’s not wise to fall asleep with one running, and you sleep better in cooler temperatures, anyway.
4. Mind the Lighting
Hopefully, you save money by switching to LED bulbs, but if you haven’t, you know how hot incandescents can get. Raise your hand if you ever winched “ouch” after touching one that only recently turned ghost.
While it may seem romantic to set the mood by draping a gauzy fabric over your lamps, please don’t do so with traditional bulbs that generate heat. If the cloth touches the bulb, flames could erupt.
5. Check Your Smoke Detectors
According to the folks at the U.S. Fire Administration, you should test your smoke detectors once per month. Having them in your home won’t matter if they don’t work as intended.
Whether you need to replace the entire unit or only the battery depends on whether you have a lithium model or not. Lithium batteries last longer, but they are embedded, meaning you must replace the entire unit. Otherwise, swap out standard batteries once yearly.
6. Monitor Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur from smoke, but this colorless, odorless gas can arise from other sources. Your water heater or furnace can emit it, as can gas stoves, motor vehicles in your garage and wood stoves.
The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is colorless and odorless. You might not know you have a leak until your family starts developing symptoms. While exposure can harm your health, it also can increase explosion risk.
7. Inspect Your Wiring
Most of your wiring lies inside the walls of your home, so you can’t readily look for frayed cords. However, you can pay attention to other symptoms that let you know when to call an electrician.
If an outlet feels warm to the touch, that’s a sure sign of trouble. Likewise, if flipping on your coffee pot and microwave at the same time causes a short, you have a problem. Other symptoms include popping or buzzing noises, dimming lights and signs of rodents in your walls.
8. Keep a Fire Extinguisher on Hand
Every home needs a fire extinguisher in case of minor blazes. However, just like detectors, you have to make sure yours works, not merely adds to your decor.
Verify that the locking pin remains in place and the seal is unbroken. Pick up the extinguisher to ensure it still feels full and confirm that the pressure gauge stays in the operable range.
9. Make an Escape Plan
If you have a two-story or more home, how will you escape if flames blaze through the lower levels? You need to secure an escape ladder and ensure all family members — including your 6-year-old — can use it.
Practice your escape plan several times per year. Ensure that your family has a meeting location. Give everyone backup cellphone chargers in case a wildfire erupts while you are away at work and school.
Now That You Know What You Need to Know About House Fires, Please Protect Yourself and Your Family
Protecting yourself from disasters is a crucial responsibility. Now that you know what you need to know about house fires, please protect yourself and your family.