With all of our awareness, safety protocols, and modern technology, home fires are still a significant danger. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), firefighters still respond to about 374,000 residential fires every year in the U.S. At that rate, we have a home fire every 10 seconds, and every 60 seconds a fire serious enough to call the fire department. Even more sobering, every three hours, someone loses their life to a fire in their home, about 13,000 a year on average.
The price tag on fire damage is startling as well – about seven billion dollars a year. So where do home fires start? The statistics show that the usual suspects are to blame – falling asleep with cigarettes, kitchen fires, and faulty wiring. But there are also some unexpected culprits when it comes to home fires, so we’ll examine them all here.
Home fires by the numbers:
374,000 Average number of residential home fires each year.
2,600 Average number of deaths each year from home fires.
12,975 Average number of injuries due to home fires each year.
$7.32 billion Average annual dollar loss due to home fires.
Causes of home fires:
9% Electrical malfunction.
8% Other unintentional or careless.
6% Open flame.
Smokers who fall asleep with lit cigarettes or fail to put them out adequately is a common cause of home fires.
In places where traditional wood fires are still aloud, sparks or embers flying out of fireplaces not covered by a screen can easily travel all the way across a room, often unnoticed, and smolder until a fire ignites.
3. Portable heaters:
Portable heating appliances can be very dangerous in the home, especially when people leave them on when they are not in the room. If they are too close to furniture, curtains, or even catch dust balls, they can easily ignite and cause fires.
4. Screws into the wall:
Homeowners almost never think twice about putting a hammer or screw into the wall to hang a picture, mirror, or other decoration. But those can easily pass through the sheetrock and pierce exposed wires, especially in older homes who didn’t have protective wall plates built into their building codes. Once a wire is frayed or pierced, you have a nonstop electric current running among insulation behind a closed wall – a recipe for a blaze. Twice as many electrical fires are started by old or faulty wiring than by the appliances themselves!
The kitchen is where most home fires occur, but interestingly enough, not where the highest fatality rates occur. That’s because people are usually present when they cook and can put it out or escape quickly. Most fires start with items too close to an open flame or hot burner on the stove – like paper towels, pot holders, aprons, aerosol cans, recipe cards, etc., as well as build ups of grease. It’s recommended you keep a three foot buffer around a hot stove, never leave a hot stove unattended, and keep a small fire extinguisher in plain sight in the kitchen.
6. The clothes dryer.
Many house fires start in the clothes dryer. When people don’t adequately clean out the lint filter, the dryer has to overwork to push hot air through a combustible clump of flammable lint, with a predictable outcome. But even if you’re diligent about cleaning it, debris can still collect in the dryer cabinet where the heating element sits, at the bottom or in the back of the machine where it’s not easily detected. The venting system is another place materials can spark or combust with heat. It’s recommended you hire a professional to clean the dryer and venting thoroughly every 18-24 months.
7. Garage debris.
Sawdust, oily rags, paint thinner, combustible aerosols, and gasoline cans sit unattended in your hot garage. A quick spark or electrical short can set them ablaze, or even spontaneously combust if the temperature rises enough.
Computers, televisions sets, video games systems, and stereos often work hard and heat up to an alarming level. They are supposed to have internal fans to cool them down but Apple computers and video game systems like Xbox or PlayStation are notorious for heating up past the point of safety, especially if they are not properly ventilated or partially obstructed by papers, a blanket or bedding, a cabinet or wall, etc.
With all of these electronics, power cords are another danger. Phone chargers that short out from electrical surges are now a growing threat of home fires. Laptop chargers that get way too hot can easily set off a flammable material like lint or papers.
In sum, electrical fires account for more than 50,000 home blazes a year, causing $1.5 billion in property damage.
9. Dust and lint.
No matter what room of the house, even small build-ups of dust and lint are a fire hazard. They can easily be kicked up or blown around into heating vents, portable heaters, open flames, cooking services, or ignite next to hot electronics.
10. Children setting fires.Children are naturally curious and it's common for them to go through a phase when they experiment with flame and fire, whether it's lighting things with a magnifying glass or messing around with matches. Once they see a flame, they often panic or run because they're scared of getting in trouble or don't know safety measures. 5% of all home fires are intentionally set (like from deep-fryers, back yard barbecues, etc.) and very few of those are arson - leaving curious children as a significant cause.
Look for our next blog that breaks down how to prepare your house, plan, and keep your family safe in the event of a home fire!