11 Common Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them

Fire is one of the most fearsome and deadly calamities that can strike a home. According to the National Fire Protection Association, about 365,500 home fires occurred in America in 2015, causing 2,650 civilian deaths and more than $7 billion in property damage. But don’t panic—instead, prepare: Most home fires can be avoided simply by taking reasonable precautions and keeping up with regular cleaning and maintenance tasks. Here are 11 often-ignored fire hazards lurking in your home, with tips on safeguarding your property from flames.

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  1. Cooking

    Cooking fire

    Most kitchens contain several potential fire hazards, including appliances with faulty or frayed wiring, unattended pots and pans, and too-hot cooking oil to name just a few. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking equipment was the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries between 2010 and 2014, so it's worth paying special attention to this high-risk space. Always stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen—even for a brief period of time—turn off the stove. Wear short, close-fitting, or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking, and don't prepare food if you are sleepy, have been drinking alcohol, or have taken medicine that makes you drowsy. Finally, always keep children away from active cooking areas.


    Related: 9 Health Code Violations Hiding in Your Kitchen

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  2. Smoking

    Smoking fire

    According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths in America. Most smoking-related fires start inside the home, often originating from upholstered furniture, bedding, or mattresses. Always smoke outside, thoroughly extinguishing cigarettes in an ashtray when finished. Soak cigarette butts in water before tossing them—never just toss a butt into a trash can! Also, smoking should never be allowed in any home where medical oxygen is in use, because of its explosive properties. 


    Related: 11 Things It's Illegal to Throw in the Trash

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  3. Heating

    Space heater

    Not surprisingly, December, January, and February are the peak months for fires caused by home heating equipment. The main culprit? Portable space heaters, which cause more fires annually than central heating. Use space heaters only in well-ventilated spaces, and keep them at least three feet away from furniture, fabrics, draperies, and other combustible objects. Be sure that heaters have a properly working thermostat control, and look for models with an automatic shut-off feature. Although central heating isn't as big a contributor to home fires, it's still smart to have your system checked and maintained on an annual basis to ensure proper operation.


    Related: 9 Sneaky Ways to Cut Your Home Heating Bills

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  4. Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

    Fireplace fire

    Fireplaces and wood stoves are another leading cause of home fires. To prevent an accident, install a spark screen or glass door in front of the firebox to protect the surrounding area from stray sparks and rolled logs. Check chimneys annually to ensure that creosote hasn't built up, and never leave a fire unattended. Periodically move cooled ashes to a covered metal container.


    Related: The 21 Most Stunning Fireplaces on the Internet

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  5. Appliance Cords

    Faulty wire

    Because frayed or faulty wires can trigger a fire, it’s important to follow safe practices with your appliance cords. Replace all worn or damaged cords right away, never overload extension cords or wall sockets, and don’t position cords under furniture or rugs. Also, don’t try forcing a three-slot plug to fit into a two-slot outlet. If a light switch or electrical outlet is hot to the touch or discolored, shut off the power to the switch or socket and replace it. 


    Related: Slash Your Electric Bill with 11 Savvy Hacks

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  6. Candles

    Candle flame

    Candles bring ambience and fragrance to your home, but they’re also a major source of house fires. Prevent catastrophe by monitoring lit candles and blowing out the flame whenever you leave the immediate area. Never position a lit candle near flammable items like bedsheets and books, which may become engulfed in flame if they come in contact with the tiny fire. As a safer alternative, homeowners can purchase flameless, battery-powered candles with LEDs.


    Related: 14 Bad Habits That Could Burn Down Your House

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  7. Flammable Liquids

    Propane fire

    Flammable liquids, such as gasoline, kerosene, and propane, should be safely stored outside in their original containers. When packing away lawn equipment for the season, empty the gasoline tank and properly dispose of the fuel. Kerosene and propane heaters, which have a constant open flame, should be kept in an isolated, well-ventilated area and used only with the proper type of fuel. Never overfill a heater, and clean up any spills right away.


    Related: 15 Household Items That Could Save Your Life

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  8. Grills and Fire Pits

    Grill fire

    Nothing beats a backyard barbecue, but if you don't follow the proper safety protocols, you may find yourself facing a backyard fire instead. When cooking outside, position your grill or fire pit several feet from your house, making sure that it's safely away from trees, deck railings, and other structures. Also, routinely clean the grill with soapy water, investigate signs of rust and corrosion, and check the gas connections. Always have a fire extinguisher nearby whenever you're dealing with open flames outdoors.


    Related: The Top 8 Ways to Hack Your Grill

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  9. Lamps and Lighting

    Lamp fire

    Many electrical fires stem from poorly installed light fixtures and lamps. Make sure that hanging lights are insulated from wood paneling or ceiling joists and that portable lamps are positioned on a sturdy base that can't easily be knocked over. Use bulbs with the correct wattage (never over the maximum limit), and opt for well-fitting lampshades. For added safety, consider switching to LED bulbs, which produce less heat than incandescent or halogen varieties.


    Related: 16 Brilliant Lighting Ideas You Can DIY on a Dime

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  10. Faulty Wiring

    Wire fire

    Older homes often have inadequate electrical wiring, making them prone to electrical fires. Your home's wiring may be faulty if you're constantly blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers, your lights dim when using an appliance, or you have to disconnect one appliance to get another to function. If these symptoms sound familiar, hire a licensed electrician to inspect your home and make any necessary repairs.


    Related: 13 Home Improvements That Are Illegal to DIY

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  11. Inquisitive Children

    Children fire

    Give a curious child a match and disaster is bound to happen. To stop children from playing with flame and unintentionally starting a fire, lock away matches and lighters. Teach kids that fire isn’t a toy, and never leave any young person unattended with stoves, candles, fireplaces, or other flame-producing objects.


    Related: 8 Dangerous Secrets Your Home May Be Hiding

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