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How to prevent and be prepared for a house fire

Learn the common preventable causes of housefires, and teach your family how to stay safe in an emergency.

Preventing home fires

Everyone admires firefighters, but no one really wants them to pay a visit.To keep your home safe, let’s review the leading causes of house fires and the easy steps you can take to prevent them.

1. Cooking

The number one cause of home fires? Cooking. Never leave your cooking unattended—whether you’re using the stove, oven or barbecue—and set a timer to remind you that your food is ready. Also:

  • Don’t fill pots and pans to the brim: hot oil can splatter and start a fire. 
  • Keep your stovetop clean to avoid the buildup of flammable grease.
  • Keep your propane barbecue grease-free by cleaning cooled grill and trays.
  • Your barbecue should be kept outside, at least one metre away from the house and away from any overhead coverings.
  • If you have a propane barbecue, open the lid before you light the grill. If you have a charcoal barbecue, only use charcoal starter fluid to get started—never add it to the fire. Let the coals cool down before disposing of them in a metal container.

2. Smoking

Most fires caused by smoking start in the bedroom or living room. To prevent a smoking-related fire at home, only smoke outdoors and follow these safety tips:

  • Douse cigarette butts with sand or water to make sure they are properly extinguished.
  • Never put cigarettes out in flower pots or throw butts on the grass or in the garden.
  • If you have young kids at home, store matches and lighters safely out of reach.
  • An e-cigarette could cause a fire if the battery explodes. If you use an e-cigarette, stay close by while it’s charging.

3. Heating and open flames

Whether it’s a roaring fire in the hearth or a single lit candle, you should keep an eye on any open flame at home.

  • Candles are a major cause of residential fires every year. Keep candles 12 inches away from anything that could catch fire, especially fabrics.
  • Keep anything flammable at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, furnaces and wood stoves. (Want to know more? Check out these safety tips for turning up the heat at home.)
  • Ask a professional to clean and inspect your chimney at least once a year.

4. Electricity

To prevent electrical fires at home, hire a qualified electrician to inspect your home for faulty wiring and conduct home and appliance repairs.

  • Treat electric heaters—baseboards and portable space heaters—like any other heat source: leave at least three feet of space between the heater and anything flammable.
  • Don’t overload your outlets. If you need extension cords, ensure that they don’t run across the room or under carpets.
  • Check the wattage on your light fixtures and use the appropriate light bulbs.

Did you know?

Believe it or not, studies have shown that fabric soaked in grease, oil or flammable liquid solvents may spontaneously combust. (Even tempura, that crunchy, deep-fried Japanese breading, may spontaneously combust if left out too long: the cooking oil and flour can ignite.) Never crumple up fabrics dipped in flammable liquid solvent—hang them up so the product can evaporate. Store greasy rags and oil-soaked towels in a sealed metal box and never throw them in the dryer.

Being prepared in the event of a house fire

It’s vital to be prepared so that you and your family can stay safe in the event that a fire breaks out. Here’s what you need to know about detecting, extinguishing and escaping a fire.

1. Smoke detectors

Smoke detectors are your first line of defence against a house fire. Install a smoke alarm on the ceiling or high on the wall in every bedroom. There should also be a smoke alarm outside every sleeping area and on every floor, including the basement.

  • Test smoke detectors once a month and change the batteries when we set the clocks forward in the summer and again when we set them back in the fall. Replace the device entirely after 10 years.
  • If possible, use smoke alarms that are interconnected. When one alarm goes off, all the alarms should sound.
  • Keep smoke alarms at least three metres away from the stove to prevent false alarms from sounding.

2. Fire extinguishers

If the fire is out of control or if the room is full of smoke, don’t attempt to use a fire extinguisher. Instead, safely exit the building and call the fire department. If the fire is contained and is not spreading, it may be safe to try to extinguish the fire.

3. Evacuation plans

Every home needs a fire escape plan. Sit down with your family to identify two ways to escape from every room in the house, and choose a safe emergency meeting place outside.

  • Practice is important! Test out your escape plan by exiting from different windows and doors during the day and night. Make sure the kids can safely exit on their own.
  • If a fire alarm is sounding, feel the door before you open it, and look for another way out if the handle is hot. Escaping through smoke? Stay low to avoid breathing it in. Remember to close all doors behind you to help contain the fire and smoke.
  • If you live in a high-rise building, review the safety features with your landlord or building manager. Identify all the exit stairs on your floor and make sure they are accessible. Find out where the fire alarm is, so you can pull it in the case of an emergency.

Beyond prevention and preparation, property insurance is key. Why not get covered before things heat up? With the right policy in place, you can stay cool and kick back at home.

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