Mother and daughter cooking in the kitchen

7 Ways Home Fires Start and How to Prevent Them

Written by Carrie Skogsberg

Reviewed by Eric Vanasdale, Loss Control Supervisor at COUNTRY Financial

You have likely talked with your family about an evacuation plan if a fire starts in your home. But have you thought about fire prevention? Fires can start and escalate quickly in everyday moments like cooking a meal. Staying vigilant in the kitchen and performing seasonal home maintenance can go a long way to prevent home fires.

These are the most common ways house fires start and the steps you can take to prevent them.

1. Stay by your stove

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking is, by far, the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries. The main contributing factor is leaving cooking equipment unattended. If you need to leave the kitchen, turn the burner off, and follow these other precautions for staying safe in the kitchen:

  • Clean your equipment after each use, such as toaster crumbs and grease on the stove.
  • Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove so no one can bump into the pans and turn them over.
  • Keep a pan lid or baking sheet nearby that can be used to cover a pan if it catches on fire.
  • Keep your stove clear of other debris such as oven mitts, packaging, towels and curtains.

2. Extinguish cigarettes and other smoking materials.

The National Fire Protection Agency reports that smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths. If smoking, practice extra caution to avoid starting a fire, such as:

  • Smoke outside.  Many things in a home can catch fire if they come in contact with a cigarette or ashes.
  • Be sure to put cigarettes out all the way every time. Don’t walk away from lit cigarettes or other smoking materials and put water on the ashes and butts to make sure they’re really extinguished.
  • Stay alert when smoking. Don’t smoke after taking medicine that may make you tired.
  • Never smoke around medical oxygen. It can explode if a spark or flame is nearby, even if it’s turned off.
  • Never smoke in bed. Mattresses and bedding easily catch fire; and there is a risk of falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

3. Give your space heater a little… space.

Space heaters are a nice addition to a chilly room, but they can be dangerous. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, they account for nearly half of home heating fires. Fire experts say it can take only three and a half minutes for a space heater to engulf an entire room.

If you’re warming up your home with a space heater, take the following precautions:

  • When using an electric portable space heater, plug it directly into an outlet and not an extension cord.
  • Leave at least three feet of empty, clean space around the heater and turn it off before leaving the house and going to bed.
  • Remember to double-check space heaters to make sure they’re approved for indoor use. Many fuel-fired space heaters emit carbon monoxide gas and cannot be used indoors. If it isn’t approved to be used indoors, or that isn’t clear in the instructions, don’t risk it!

4. Maintain your furnace

Furnaces usually sit in dark, secluded places of the home, making it easy to forget about them. But it’s important to ask a heating and cooling specialist to inspect it every year to check for leaks and any obstructions. Something as simple as lint buildup can be dangerous.

Change furnace filters every three months to reduce particle buildup. Changing the filter is easy and something a homeowner can do. Aside from adding an extra layer of safety, a clean furnace filter traps dirt and allergens and makes furnaces run more efficiently.

5. Pay for annual chimney sweeps

Annual chimney sweeps ensure a chimney is free of dangerous creosote residue, as well as soot and other debris.  Buildup in the flue system is flammable and has the potential to catch fire.

When using your fireplace:

  • Carefully dispose of ashes. Let them cool for at least 48 hours and put them in a metal bucket with a tight-fitting lid. Don’t keep them in a garage or near buildings where they can ignite flammable objects.
  • Don’t vacuum ashes for at least 48 hours after putting out the fire.

6. Leave smoke detectors enabled

If your smoke detector goes off while you’re cooking in the kitchen, don’t turn it off. Too many people forget to turn them back on.

Test smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries at least twice per year. It’s helpful to use a specific date like daylight savings time changes to remember to check them.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends homes have smoke alarms installed on every floor, including the basement. For extra safety, install smoke alarms both inside and outside sleeping areas.

7.  Pay attention to your wiring

Homeowners should check that they’re not overloading electrical outlets by reviewing the wattage rating and following the manufacturer instructions of how many strands can be plugged in per outlet. If you blow a fuse, consider it a warning and decrease wattage by plugging that item into a different area.

Don’t forget to make sure you’re protected with proper home insurance coverage.  If you experience a home fire, learn more about how to file a home insurance claim.


Updated 10-17-23

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