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Winter Fire Safety

Stay Safe and Warm with Winter Fires

When the weather outside is frightful, it may seem like the perfect time to light a warm, crackling fire in an indoor fireplace. But when cold weather hits, fire risk increases in homes throughout the US.

House fires are more common in winter than in any other season. The main reason for the spike in home fire risk in cold weather is due to an increase in heating and
cooking-related fires.

Holiday decorations may also place a burden on a home’s day-to-day electrical supply. Severe storms can knock out power intermittently throughout the winter and cause homeowners to use alternative heating methods that may be unreliable or unsafe.

Even though a winter house fire may seem like a scenario where “it couldn’t happen to you,” it’s critical to always be prepared. The California State Firefighters’ Association sheds light on home fire statistics to raise awareness and improve safety.

Did you know…?

Peak months for home fire deaths are December through March.

Someone dies from a home fire every three hours in the US.

Roughly two thirds of home heating fire deaths are caused by fixed space or portable heaters.

Smoking remains the top cause of home fire death year-round, although smoking and heating equipment deaths are equal in December, January, and February.

Unattended cooking is the number one cause of home cooking fires.

A rise in popularity of deep fryers for holiday turkeys has led to an increase in house fires and burn injuries.

Christmas lights, cords, and plugs are the leading contributors to Christmas tree fires in homes.

Adults older than 65 have twice the risk of dying in a home fire compared to the rest of the population.

Children under five account for roughly 17% of home fire deaths.

84% of all fire-related deaths occur at home, according to the US Fire Administration.

There are several top house fire risk factors to be aware of.

The National Fire Protection Agency confirms that states with the highest fire death rates have higher percentages of:

Smokers Rural populations Households in poverty
Out of the 74,000 disasters the American Red Cross has responded to throughout the US, 93% were fire-related.

The American Red Cross reveals another shocking fact the organization uncovered in their nationwide relief work—roughly 80% of Americans don’t realize that house fires are the most common disaster throughout the country. Because of this, very few families are prepared; only 26% of homes have developed and practiced a fire escape plan.

To ensure survival and protect loved ones, preparation is key. In addition to developing a home fire safety plan, installing sprinklers and smoke alarms can cut down the risk of death in a home fire by 82% compared to living in a home without fire safety features.

time is everything

11 p.m to 7 a.m

are the peak alarm times for home fire deaths–when people tend to be asleep and the house is likely to be dark.

< 3 minutes

On average, families have less than three minutes from the time the first smoke alarm sounds to escape a fire..

facts about smoke alarms

In the U.S., 62% of home fire deaths resulted from fires in home with inoperable smoke alarms or no smoke alarms.

38% of the fatal fire injuries occured in homes with no smoke alarms at all. (37% had operating smoke alarm and 1% fire too small to operate)

While 24% occured in homes in which at least one smoke alarm was present but failed to operate.

In reported home fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate:

50% of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.

23% of the smoke alarm failures was due to dead batteries.

Nuisance alarms were the leading reason for disconnected smoke alarms.

In cold weather months, the holidays are a prime time for house fires.

According to the American Red Cross, roughly 47,000 fires take place during winter holidays, resulting in over 500 fatalities, 2200 injuries, and $554 million in property damage. In the winter holiday season, candle fire and Christmas tree fire risk is on the rise. One out of every 40 Christmas tree house fires will result in death.

Understanding primary fire risk factors and peak seasons—Christmas trees and holiday lights in cold weather months, for example—can help to keep your family safe. We’ll break down critical house fire risk factors in the next section

Home Structure Fires in Which Christmas Tree Were First Ignited by month: 2007-2011

43%

December

39%

January

18%

February-Novemeber

SOURCE: National Fire Protection Association


Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: House Fire Risk Factors

Thousands of people die in house fires each year, and many more are injured as a result.

Even if you and your family escape a house fire unscathed or aren’t home at the time of the accident, it could still result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. Many families are unfortunate enough to lose all of their valuables in a house fire that ignites in seconds.

What is even more chilling is that most house fires occur at night when families are asleep. Waking up in the midst of a roaring fire can be overwhelming and leave very little time to react. Room temperatures may rise as high as 100° at floor level and 600° at eye level.

Ready.gov provides fire safety education and emphasizes the importance of fire preparedness at home

“In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house or for it to be engulfed in flames.”

Early preparation and knowledge of fire safety can prevent this nightmare from taking place.

A house fire may begin burning bright, but after a room fills with black smoke, all visibility is lost. This smoke also brings with it toxic gas that is more likely to cause death than flames from a fire. In some of the saddest cases, a room fills with odorless fumes produced by a fire that lull the occupants of a house into a deep sleep so that they don’t wake in time to escape.

First and foremost, it’s time to zero in on the top house fire triggers to stop risk factors before they start. Some of the most common house fire causes include:

Top causes of house fires

42%

cooking

18%

electrical

17%

arson

15%

heating

5%

smoking

4%

candles

0.02%

children playing

House fires cost homeowners $6.9 billion in damage each year

U.S. Fire Department respond to over 350,000 house fires each year

One civilian fire death occurs every 3 hours

62% of house fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms

In the average family home, there is a risk of fire day in and day
out—every time a family cooks a meal.

Yes, cooking is responsible for 42% of house fires that could easily be prevented. Other top house fire risks relate to electrical issues, arson, and heating components.

High Risk Groups

There are specific age groups that are highly at risk for house fire casualties: young children and elderly adults.

Half of the people killed in house fires each year are preschool aged children or adults 65 and older. Other at-risk groups include people with emotional, mental, or physical handicaps that may not be prepared to respond quickly in a home fire.

Children are likely to be involved in home fires caused by carelessness or negligence—children left alone may play with matches or lighters and cause a highly dangerous, rapidly spreading house fire to ignite. For this reason, a child caught setting a fire must be taken quite seriously. Counseling through a local fire department is recommended by FEMA to prevent a young child from setting a potentially fatal fire again.

Fire Retardant Sleepwear

It’s important for all parents to read children’s clothing labels before bed to ensure that they are wearing only fire retardant sleepwear overnight.

FEMA also highlights one often-overlooked area that can greatly impact family fire safety: children’s sleepwear. New legislation was passed in the 1970s through the Flammable Fabrics Act that required all children’s sleepwear to be flame retardant. This small measure helped to reduce related deaths and injuries by 95%.

However, many families often put children to sleep in light garments, like T-shirts and jerseys. Although this type of children’s clothing may be comfortable enough to sleep in, it is not likely to be fire retardant.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Fire safety wouldn’t be complete without understanding the basics of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal. It has resulted in 480 deaths and 15,200 related hospital visits a year.

Each year, more than 200 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by fuel-burning appliances in the home. These include ranges, furnaces, water heaters, and room heaters.

Most families associate smoke and flames with house fires and the damage they cause. But carbon monoxide can be equally dangerous related to a home fire. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, invisible gas created when fuels like wood, coal, gasoline, and propane burn incompletely.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur suddenly with a large amount of CO released into the air in a short amount of time. It can also occur gradually with a small amount of CO poisoning released over a long period of time.

For many people, the subtle effects of carbon monoxide poisoning may be difficult to recognize. Depending on the concentration, carbon monoxide poisoning may affect one person differently than another. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may also depend on an individual’s health and medical history.

Carbon monoxide may be released in a house fire or from another in-home heating device.

Carbon monoxide detectors are just as important as smoke alarms in a home to detect serious dangers as early as possible. Though it may be tempting to install a carbon monoxide detector instead of a smoke alarm, or vice versa, it’s important to have both. CO alarms and smoke alarms each have a unique purpose. Both detectors work hand-in-hand to protect a family from invisible dangers in seconds.

How to Make Your Home Fire Safe

A fire escape plan is something you’re not going to miss until it’s too late.

As we’ve already described in great detail, a house fire can be sudden and overwhelming. You may find yourself in need of a quick escape if you’ve been woken by smoke detectors in the middle of the night. What’s more, you may be terrified that family members in other rooms of the house may also be in danger.

You can work with your family in advance to create and practice an easy fire escape plan to use in case of an emergency. Not only will developing a fire escape plan set your mind at ease, but it will ensure that you get from point A to point B as quickly as possible in a home fire—so that all family members make it out of the house safe and sound.

A fire escape plan is straightforward and based on the principle that every second counts. Ready.gov provides the following family fire escape guidelines:

Identify two ways out of each room in the house. A backup exit from a room can be used if the primary exit is blocked by smoke or fire.

Check for stuck windows regularly; make sure screens can be popped out quickly and that security bars are easy to open.

Practice feeling and exiting the house with eyes closed or in the dark as a family.

Practice opening and closing windows and doors in different rooms in the house.

Teach children how to call out to firefighters and to never hide in a fire.


In the event of a fire, family members should be taught to:

Crawl low under any smoke to predetermined exits.

Start to exit immediately as soon as smoke alarms sound.

If a primary room exit is blocked by smoke or fire, use the secondary room exit.

If escaping through smoke is the only option, stay low and move fast since smoke is toxic.

Feel doorknobs before opening doors; if a doorknob is hot, use a secondary exit out of a room.

Open doors slowly; shut a door immediately if a room is filled with smoke or fire.

Call 911 right away if you can’t reach another family member in the house.

If you are trapped in a room, close the door and cover vents or cracks with cloth or tape to shut smoke out. Call 911 and signal for help at a window with a light-colored cloth or flashlight.

Stop, drop, and roll immediately if clothes or hair catch on fire.

Any family members who are elderly or have special needs should take special precautions when creating a fire escape plan.

Wheelchair ramp access should be available in and out of major rooms in a house leading to exits. It is recommended that elderly people live on the ground floor in a multistory home or apartment building for an easier exit in an emergency.

Having a fire escape plan in place can be a matter of life or death, but it’s even more important to prevent a fire in the first place.

Here’s a helpful home fire safety checklist that you can use to reduce the risk of a house fire in winter months:

Check that enough smoke alarms are installed in the house and set a personal alarm to test them regularly.

Create and practice a written fire escape plan that all family members can understand.

Never leave cooking on a stovetop unattended.

Clean a chimney before the first fire of the season.

Use a fireplace screen when a fire is lit at home.

Keep portable heaters free from bedding, curtains, and tablecloths.

Clean the lint filter each time you use the clothes dryer.

Make sure candles are out before going to bed.

Check wood, gas, and oil heating units for yearly maintenance.

Keep a working fire extinguisher and fire blanket in the kitchen.

Never use faulty heating appliances, including portable heaters and electric blankets.

Sadly, 40,000 pets die annually in house fires. 1000 house fires are started by pets each year.

Families with pets may be just as concerned about their “furry children” in an emergency. Pets can’t comprehend a family fire escape plan and may accidentally get trapped in a room in the chaos of a fire.

Prepare to protect your pets in a house fire with these helpful tips:


Be Prepared for an Emergency

Get a rescue alert sticker

These stickers, placed on a front-facing window, will alert rescue workers of the presence of pets inside your home.

Arrange a safe haven

Arrange a place for pets to stay if you evacuate. Do not leave your pets at home. If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for them!

Make an emergency kit

Have your kit made and keep it in a safe location near your front door for easy access.

Keep indentification on your pet

Keep up-to-date license and contact info on your pet at all times. Consider having pets microchipped..

SOURCE: National Fire Protection Association

Keep an emergency kit on hand for your furry friends with enough supplies to last seven days. A pet-friendly emergency kit can include medications and medical records; leashes, harnesses, or carriers; current photos; cat litter, bowls, food, bottled water, and a can opener; pet toys and beds; and emergency contact numbers.

Fire safety training can be especially helpful to teach families how to react in an emergency.

Many family members may be tempted to reenter a burning building if a loved one or pet has been left behind. Firefighters urge families to resist this all-too-common impulse. Reentering a burning building is never recommended, no matter who or what has been left behind. Families should wait for help to arrive so that anyone trapped in the home can be rescued as quickly and as safely as possible—without risking another life.


Top 10 Home Fire Safety Tips

Practicing home fire safety is the only way you can rest easy at night.

Take these top 10 tips to heart to prevent a senseless house fire and keep your family from becoming a statistic:

1

Make sure your home has smoke detectors installed at every level, especially near sleeping areas.

2

Test smoke detectors monthly and replace batteries twice a year. (Daylight Saving Time is a helpful biannual reminder.)

3

Consider installing home safety sprinklers to work with smoke alarms to increase the chance of fire survival; home sprinklers will also lower homeowner’s insurance rates.

4

Train all family members in how to use an all-purpose fire extinguisher located in the kitchen.

5

Keep all flammable items and matches locked away from children.

6

Make it a practice not to smoke inside a home, and especially not in bed.

7

Take special care to water evergreen Christmas trees regularly so they don’t dry out; only use flame retardant artificial Christmas trees.

8

Never use appliances or heaters with frayed wires or cords.

9

Never overuse extension cords or overload electrical circuits.

10

Inspect and service heating components in the fall before cold weather hits.

Top-notch fire safety comes down to prevention.

The US Fire Administration confirms that having a working smoking detector in a home can more than double your chance of surviving a house fire.

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