What is the leading cause of house fires in the United States? According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics compiled from 2011-2015, a whopping 43 percent of the nearly 360,000 house fires responded to by U.S. fire departments were caused by cooking equipment, followed by heating systems/furnace, 15 percent; electrical systems and lighting equipment, 9 percent; arson, 8 percent; and smoking materials, 5 percent. Other fire causes included unattended candles, dryers and washing machines, lightning, children playing with fire, Christmas tree lighting, and faulty fireplaces.

The house fires cause an annual average of about 2,500 civilian fire deaths and 12,300 injuries, leading to $6.7 billion in direct damage, NFPA states. The most lethal fires were careless use of smoking materials with 22 percent of the deaths caused, followed by kitchen fires, 20 percent; heating equipment, 19 percent; electrical systems and lighting, 18 percent; and arson, 15 percent.

Mitigating fire risks

There are steps you can take to minimize the risk of house fires and keep your family safe. Let’s start in the kitchen with these safety suggestions from the American Red Cross.

  • Never leave cooking food unattended, especially when frying, grilling or broiling. If you have to leave the kitchen, turn off the stove, and don’t leave the house while cooking.
  • Always use a timer.
  • Never throw water on a grease fire. This could result. Also, keep oil and grease from building up in the oven and stovetop.
  • Have a fully charged Class B dry chemical fire extinguisher close at hand in your kitchen and know how to use it.
  • Dress safely: No loose-fitting clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
  • Keep children away from the cooking area—at least three feet away from the stove.
  • If it’s flammable, keep it away from the stove. That means pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels or curtains.
  • Before heading off to bed or leaving the house, make sure stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.
  • Have working smoke alarms in the kitchen and throughout the home.

Keep your home’s furnace in safe, working order

As temperatures plummet, you’ll count on your furnace to provide warmth and comfort for you and your family. So it only makes sense to ensure it’s in good working order throughout the winter months.

  • Get an annual furnace check-up. Have your furnace cleaned and inspected every year by a professional. During the inspection, your furnace will be checked for problems such as carbon monoxide leaks or frayed electrical wires that could be a fire hazard.
  • Change your air filter. Your furnace will be more efficient and a clean filter will help keep dust from being circulated through your home. Change or clean your air filter every 1-3 months during the winter, when the furnace is being used the most.
  • Keep area around your furnace clear of flammable items like papers, sawdust, old rags and wood scraps. Liquids such as gasoline and kerosene should be stored in tightly sealed containers, since vapors from flammable liquids easily ignite.
  • Test carbon monoxide detectors: If your furnace isn’t functioning properly, it could have a carbon monoxide leak and you’ll never know it unless you’ve installed a working detector. A carbon monoxide leak can cause flu-like symptoms, disorientation, confusion and even death.

Electrical hazards

Since much of your home’s electrical system is invisible, it presents some not-so-clear-and-present dangers. Still, many people have misconceptions about what is hazardous and what is not, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Fuses and circuit breakers not a security blanket. If an electric current is high enough to damage wiring, the fuse or breaker will detect this and throw the breaker switch. But unacceptably high currents can cause insulation damage and overheating that can damage electrical appliances or cause combustible materials near the wiring to ignite. Instead of simply relying on fuses and circuit breakers, wiring must be properly sized, and some appliances need their own separate circuit. Some of these include refrigerator, freezer, electric range, microwave, water heater, washer, dryer, dishwasher/garbage disposal, furnace, heat pump, air conditioner (central and window), and sump pump.

Mismatched extension cords. Some homeowners do not heed the requirement that their extension cord be rated to match the appliance it’s plugged into. Extension cords running to computers, air conditioning units, and space heaters, and any major appliances must be able to handle the load lest it heat up causing the entire circuit to become unsafe and a fire hazard. Even more dangerous is running an extension cord under rugs, furniture, or anything else that will capture this heat instead of allowing it to dissipate.

Another electrical hazard: when people try and save a few bucks by Googling a YouTube video and going the DIY route, or having an unlicensed friend, relative or other person perform electrical work. Make sure your installer is fully licensed to prevent a faulty installation that could leading to a hazardous situation.

The good news: Estimates from NFPA’s Fire Department Experience Survey show that since 1980 the number of reported home fires and fire deaths has been halved. The bad news: Since 2006, the number of home fire deaths has largely plateaued, hovering between 2,380 and 2,865. But the death rate per 1,000 fires was actually 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980—7.8 percent vs. 7.1 percent.

Don’t become a statistic. Take the time and make the resources available to safeguard your home from the risk of fire. Have a plan in place in case fire strikes to ensure your family’s safety.

But should the unthinkable happen and you fall victim to house fires, you’re not alone. Miller Public Adjusters can help protect your interests and get you back on track. We’ll even provide a free claim review and analysis of your unique situation. Call 800-958-4829 and talk to one of our qualified, caring public adjusters.

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