Thousands of house fires occur across Australia every year[i], sometimes with the catastrophic consequence of the death of residents[ii]. Here’s what you can do to prevent that from happening in your home.
Home fires can pose a serious risk to you, your family, your home, and your possessions. Some of the common, and avoidable, causes of fires in the home can include failure to check and replace smoke alarms, leaving a stove unattended or heating appliances left on[iii]. We look at some common causes of fires in the home and the measures you can take to prevent a fire from starting.
Major Causes of Home Fires
According to Fire & Rescue NSW, more than half of all home fires start in the kitchen[iv] and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade as well as the Country Fire Authority in Victoria reported that over 40% of all fires in the state were kitchen fires[v]. Not surprisingly, many of these fires start in or on stoves, ovens, toasters, and microwaves, typically found in the kitchen. Home fires can also be caused by faulty or damaged electrical wiring throughout the house and in-home appliances; the incorrect use of appliances; and items such as candles and heating appliances – irons, room heaters, electric blankets, hair straighteners, and more – being left unattended[vi].
Safety in the Kitchen
Fire & Rescue NSW recommends the following measures to improve fire safety in your kitchen[vii]:
- Never leave children unattended in the kitchen and always keep them away from hotplates, stovetops and ovens while cooking.
- Turn pot and pan handles inwards so they can’t be knocked over or reached by children.
- Turn off all cooking appliances after use.
- Never leave your cooking unattended; if you need to leave the kitchen while cooking, remember to turn off the hotplate/stove.
- Regularly clean kitchen appliances, and check that they are not damaged or faulty. If you notice damage or fault, get the appliance fixed by a professional or have the appliance replaced.
- Keep a fire extinguisher and fire blanket in the kitchen at least 1m away from the stove. Make sure that you and your family members know how and when to use these items.
- Keep tea towels, oven mitts, paper towels and other flammable materials away from heat sources.
- Never use water to put out fat or oil fires; water may cause the fire to rise and spread rapidly.
- If cooking oil in a pan catches fire, turn off the hotplate/stove immediately (if safe to do so), and slide a lid over the pan or use the fire blanket to smother the fire.
Other safety measures include never attempting to heat metal in a microwave, including metal crockery or utensils such as metal bowls, metal foil or twist ties. It’s best to only use microwave-safe containers and to refer to the instructions for the microwave oven so you know exactly what types of containers are safe to use for the appliance[viii].
If there is a fire in your microwave oven, turn it off immediately and unplug the power cord if safe to do so. Wait until the fire suffocates and do not open the door of the microwave until the fire is completely out[viii].
Safety in the Home
The areas of the home most susceptible to fire apart from the kitchen, are the sleeping and lounge areas<[ix]. Here are some tips to prevent a fire from breaking out in areas of the home outside of the kitchen[x],[xi]:
- Don’t overload power boards.
- Ensure electronic devices such as laptops, TVs, and monitors, do not overheat. Good air-flow around the devices will prevent overheating and reduce the risk of a fire.
- Regularly check that all plugs are firmly fixed in power boards and that there isn’t a build-up of dust in sockets; also check for damage. If you notice damage, have a professional electrician replace the sockets or plugs.
- Strong fire screens should be set up in front of open fires.
- Turn electric blankets on 30 minutes before getting into bed and turn it off once you are in bed; check electric blankets for damage or frayed cords before placing one on the bed.
- Keep curtains, tablecloths and bedding away from electric and oil heaters.
- Clean the lint filter of your clothes tumble dryer after every use.
- Always extinguish candles or any other open flame before going to bed.
- Don’t leave powered electrical appliances like hairdryers, hair straighteners and laptops on beds.
- Always remember to turn off any heat appliances such as electric heaters and blankets, hair straighteners and irons.
- Always follow instructions with regards to appliance use.
A smoke alarm is a necessary device for your home. They detect smoke from fires and alert people in the home of danger. Be sure to test your smoke alarms regularly and replace your batteries yearly[xii]. If a fire starts and you feel you cannot put it out, evacuate your home immediately using a fire escape strategy, and call the Fire Brigade on 000.
A fire in the home can be a traumatic, dangerous and costly event. Home insurance is a way to protect your family financially in the event of damage from fire to your home.
[i] Parliament of Australia 2016, Use of smoke alarms to prevent smoke and fire related deaths – Chapter 2, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Fire_safety/Report/c02, viewed on August 20, 2018
[ii] Moloney, P 2016, ‘House fires on the rise across NSW, reports Fire & Rescue NSW’, Sydney Morning Herald, January 5, 2016, https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/house-fires-on-the-rise-across-nsw-reports-fire–rescue-nsw-20160105-glzq5r.html viewed on August 20, 2018
[iii] Collard S 2018, ‘Five common causes of house fires and how to prevent them’, ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-28/five-of-the-most-common-things-that-can-burn-your-house-down/9916154, viewed on August 17, 2018
[v] Metropolitan Fire Brigade 2016, ‘Home fires on the rise due to small mistakes’, News Releases, http://www.mfb.vic.gov.au/News/Home-fires-on-the-rise-due-to-small-mistakes.html, viewed on August 17, 2018
[vi] Tasmania Fire Service, Home Fire Safety, http://www.fire.tas.gov.au/userfiles/stuartp/file/Publications/TFS-Home-Fire-Safety-Booklet-29-08-2012.pdf#page=13, viewed on August 20, 2018
[x] Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Community, Booklet, http://www.mfb.vic.gov.au/Community/Home-Safety/Booklet/Booklet-as-audio-files.html , viewed on August 17, 2018
[xii] Fire Protection Association Australia 2016, ‘Change your clock, change your smoke alarm battery’, http://www.fpaa.com.au/news/news/2016/03/change-your-clock,-change-your-smoke-alarm-battery.aspx?docType=Articles, viewed on August 17, 2018