House Fires

Household fires cause nearly 3,000 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries nationwide each year. Many residential fire-related deaths can be prevented. There are four key things to know about house fires:

Fire is fast – In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire, and thick, black smoke can fill a house in minutes. If you wake up to find your home on fire, there is no time to grab valuables – there is only time to evacuate.

Fire is hot – In fact, heat is more threatening than flames. Inhaling super-hot air will scorch your lungs and the heat can melt clothes to your skin. In five minutes, a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once: this is called flashover.

Fire is dark – Fire isn’t bright, it’s pitch black. Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to find your way around the home you’ve lived in for years.

Fire is deadly – Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented and short of breath. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape.

Before A House Fire

Install Smoke Alarms

  • Properly working smoke alarms decrease your chances of dying in a fire by half.
  • Place smoke alarms on every level of your residence. Place them outside bedrooms on the ceiling or high on the wall (4 to 12 inches from ceiling), at the top of open stairways, or at the bottom of enclosed stairs and near (but not in) the kitchen.
  • Test and clean smoke alarms once a month and if your model uses a 9-volt battery, be sure to replace the battery at least once a year when you change your clocks back to Standard Time each fall. Newer alarms that use a lithium battery may not need to be changed annually, but still require periodic maintenance and testing. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for whichever model you have. Replace smoke alarms once every 10 years.

Plan Your Escape

  • Review escape routes with your family. Practice escaping from each room.
  • Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut. Make sure security gratings on windows have a fire safety opening feature so they can be easily opened from the inside.
  • Consider escape ladders if your residence has more than one level, and ensure that burglar bars and other antitheft mechanisms that block outside window entry are easily opened from the inside.
  • Teach family members to stay low to the floor when escaping from a fire.

During A Fire

  • Check closed doors for heat before you open them.
  • If you are escaping through a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door and the crack between the door and door frame before you open it. Never use the palm of your hand or fingers to test for heat – burning those areas could impair your ability to escape a fire (i.e., ladders and crawling).
    • Hot Door
      Do not open. Escape through a window. If you cannot escape, hang a white or light-colored sheet outside the window, alerting fire fighters to your presence.
    • Cool Door
      Open slowly and ensure fire and/or smoke is not blocking your escape route. If your escape route is blocked, shut the door immediately and use an alternate escape route, such as a window. If clear, leave immediately through the door and close it behind you. Be prepared to crawl. Smoke and heat rise. The air is clearer and cooler near the floor.
  • Crawl low under any smoke to your exit – heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll – stop immediately, drop to the ground, and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. If you or someone else cannot stop, drop and roll, smother the flames with a blanket or towel.
  • Close doors behind you as you escape to delay the spread of the fire.
  • Once you are safely out, do not re-enter. Call 9-1-1.

After A Fire

  • If you are with burn victims, or are a burn victim yourself, call 9-1-1; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.
  • If you detect heat or smoke when entering a damaged building, evacuate immediately.
  • If you have a safe or strong box, do not try to open it. It can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the box has cooled, the contents could burst into flames.
  • If you must leave your home because a building inspector says the building is unsafe, ask someone you trust to watch the property during your absence.

Learn more about preventing fires