Home fire safety and prevention should be something all of us consider. There are signs that the increasing focus on both has helped reduce the number of deaths caused by fires over recent decades.
The latest government statistics show that fire and rescue services attended 30,412 dwelling fires in England in the year ending June 2018. There were 177 fire-related deaths, which was a 39% reduction compared to the previous year.
But these figures are no cause for complacency; fire presents a real danger to you and your property. Yet, with a little awareness and by taking some simple precautions, you can significantly lower the risk of a fire.
Where and how do fires start in the home?
According to statistics gathered by the London Fire Brigade, between 2011 and 2016 almost 60% of fires in the home started in the kitchen. While it was less common for fires to start in the bedroom or living room (both under 10%), they did see a far higher percentage of total deaths.
Looking at specific causes of fires helps to explain these figures. Almost 50% of fires in the home were related to cooking appliances, while around 10% were related to electrical supply problems. The third most common causes of fires in the home was smoking, followed by candles and matches. However, smoking-related incidents accounted for almost a third of fire-related deaths in the home.
The good news is that the number of fire-related deaths has been falling since the 1980s. This is at least partly down to fire services becoming more involved in home fire prevention and because smoke alarms are now more widely used.
Kitchen fire safety
It should be no surprise that most fires start in the kitchen – for one thing, it’s the room in the house where the naked flames of gas hobs are in regular use, so the opportunities for accidents are greater. And it’s very easy to become distracted and forget you’ve got something on the hob or in the oven. The basic rules are very simple – keep an eye on all appliances when they’re being used and never leave cooking unattended.
- Take extra care when cooking with hot oil, as it can easily catch fire.
- Ensure cloths, paper towels and tea towels are not placed near hobs.
- Use a spark device instead of matches or a lighter to light your hob, they’re safer as they don’t have a naked flame.
- Larger electrical appliances like washing machines, should have a single plug to themselves, as they’re high powered machines.
- Remember to unplug all your appliances except fridges and freezers if you go on holiday.
- Don’t leave children or pets in the kitchen alone when you’re cooking – turn down the heat and move pans to the back hob.
- Don’t leave the cooker on when not in use.
- Don’t put metal objects in the microwave.
Bedroom fire safety
There’s one big rule for home fire safety in the bedroom – don’t smoke in bed. No matter how determined you might be to stay awake, it’s very easy to doze off and the results could be fatal.
There are other everyday items that can be hazardous when used in the bedroom – crimpers and hair straighteners, for example. They’re often very hot after use and if left on bedding or clothing can be the start of a fire. Hair dryers, too, can overheat if left on, so be sure to switch them off and unplug them when you’ve finished with them. And if like many of us you tend to leave your phone to charge by your bed overnight, be careful to check any power cables for wear and tear.
- Watch where you put items like hair straighteners and hair dryers.
- Don’t smoke in bed.
Living room fire safety
Both an open fire and candles can make a living room a much more welcoming, cosy place to spend time. And both are perfectly safe, as long as you don’t ignore them and forget to put both out, before going out or going to bed at night.
If you do have an open fire, stove or log burner in your front room, remember to keep chimneys and flues clean and have the chimney swept regularly by a professional.
- Ensure you stub out cigarettes safely and correctly.
- Check all electrics are fitted with the correct fuse to avoid overheating.
- Make sure any electrical appliances you buy hold a British or European safety mark.
- Keep electrical appliances clean and in good working order.
- Turn off and unplug any electrical appliances when not in use, unless they’re designed to be left on.
- Never use portable heaters to dry clothes and avoid placing them near furniture or curtains.
- Don’t leave burning candles unattended and keep them away from children. Put them in secure holders away from anything that could catch fire and on a surface that won't burn.
Smoke is far more likely to kill you in a fire than flames and a smoke alarm is likely to be the first and only warning you get if a fire breaks out at home. That’s especially true if you’re asleep at the time. They can be annoying if they go off when you cook, but don’t be tempted to switch them off when you’re in the kitchen. It’s better to be slightly irritated on occasion than trapped by a fire that’s already got a firm hold.
- Fit a smoke alarm on each floor of your home.
- Ensure they're tested regularly.
- Don’t switch off alarms while you’re cooking – there’s a good chance you’ll forget to switch them back on again.
Planning for an emergency
Staying safe is always the priority in a house fire, so, whether you live in a bungalow or a tower block, make sure you and your family are aware of the fastest, safest way to get out of the building in an emergency.
- Work out an escape plan with your family.
- Make sure you all know where the window and door keys are kept and how to get out if there's a fire.
- Keep all exits clear.
- Check doors for heat with the back of your hand before opening them in a fire. If the door is warm, don’t open it, there may be fire on the other side. Look for another way out.
General home fire safety
If fire does break out in your home, focus on getting everyone out. Don’t worry about your belongings or trying to put the fire out yourself. As soon as you’re all safe, call the emergency services and let them tackle the blaze, no matter how minor it appears to be. Possessions can always be replaced, but you and your family can’t.
- Look out for scorch marks, hot plugs or sockets, flickering lights, blown fuses or circuit breakers, which trip for no obvious reason.
- Ensure matches and lighters are kept out of reach of children.
- Regularly check old cables and wires, including those hidden by furniture or under mats.
- Turn heaters off and put up fireguards when not in use.
- Close all doors when going to bed.
- Don’t overload electrical sockets; ensure you switch them off at night.
- Don’t wear loose or flammable clothing as they’re more likely to catch fire.
- Never tackle a fire yourself – get out, stay out and call 999.
For a more comprehensive guide to home fire safety see the London Fire Brigade’s Fire safety in the home leaflet.
Always be cautious when undertaking any task that you're not fully familiar with as you could injure yourself or those around you, seek professional help where required.
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