House fire preparedness guide
House fires can start in many ways. Your home could get hit by lightning. Someone could forget to turn off a stove or blow out a candle. Embers from a fireplace could catch on the carpet or a curtain. But while there can be many different causes, the precautions you should take to protect yourself and your family remain the same in all instances.
Here's a quick preparedness guide to help you get started. It covers the most important actions you can take before, during, and after a house fire.
Facts about house fires
A fire can become life-threatening within two minutes. It can engulf an entire house within five minutes.
Three out of every five house fire deaths occur in homes that have no working smoke alarms.
Cooking is the leading cause of house fires in the U.S.
Temperatures inside a burning house can reach upwards of 600°F, which is enough to burn skin, melt clothing, and damage your lungs.
Smoke inhalation causes three times as many deaths as burns in house fires.
More house fires are typically seen on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year.
House fire prevention and preparation
What to do when a house fire occurs
If your house is on fire, you have only minutes to act and get out safely. Here are some tips you should follow.
Take these steps after a house fire occurs
Don’t stop to gather your possessions before you exit the house. The fire will likely consume your whole home within minutes, making it more difficult to get out.
Don’t go back into the house to retrieve people or pets. You could end up getting trapped yourself. Instead, wait for firefighters to arrive, and alert them to the people and pets still trapped inside.
Don’t disable smoke alarms while you’re cooking. If you walk away from the stove and a fire starts — or if you fail to reconnect the smoke alarm later — you could be caught off guard when a fire starts.
Don’t smoke in the house. Soak cigarette butts in water before you throw them out to prevent them from catching fire.
Don’t leave children unattended near an open flame or hot stove. They could accidentally start a fire or sustain a severe injury.
Q. My house has had the same smoke alarm since I moved in. Is that okay?
A. Smoke alarms should be replaced every eight to 10 years. There should be a date listed on the smoke alarm so you know when it needs replacing. You should also replace your smoke alarm immediately if it stops working for any reason.
The batteries of your smoke alarm will need to be replaced much more often. Change the batteries at least once a year or when the alarm chirps at you to signal that the battery is low.
Q. I live in an multi-story apartment building. What should my fire escape plan be?
A. Ideally, there will still be multiple ways out of the apartment. There may be a fire escape out of the window and stairs that lead to the ground floor. You should never take an elevator during a fire in case it falls.
Q. I've heard portable space heaters cause fires. Are they safe?
A. Portable space heaters are safe as long as you use them correctly. You should look for one that has been tested and verified as safe by a company like Underwriters Laboratory (UL). It should also have an auto-shutoff function if it gets too hot. Keep any potentially flammable material at least three feet away from the space heater while it's on.
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