Five Ways to Prevent House Fires

House fires devestate thousands of families every year and take lives. A few things done regularly can drasticly reduce chances of a fire…and increase chances of getting out.

January 17, 1987 – location Monroe Washington. A small house I’d rented wasn’t in good shape but was affordable and had land for animals. I was assured it was maintained and all the pipes, chimney and such had been cleaned when I moved in the previous year. The temperature dropped and as the cold set in I turned to the pile of kiln dried salvage lumber I’d collected to heat the house. I loaded the woodstove and settled in for a quiet evening, then the phone rang with someone wanting to meet me in town. I bundled up reluctantly and secured my fox terrier in the bathroom, the cats in the house and bid goodbye to the dogs outside. Less than an hour had passed when I pulled in at home to flashing lights and firetrucks lining the driveway. The roof collapsed as I pulled up. The cause of the fire – creosote build up. In short, the chimney had NOT been cleaned. In the months that followed I learned more than I wanted to about fires and prevention. If I’d curled up and fallen asleep as planned I’d not have made it out alive.

Taking steps ahead of time can save lives and property. Here’s some:

1. Clean the heating system – wood stoves, chimney, pipes are obvious but also clean duct work, change filters where needed and maintain the heating system. Give it a complete check going into winter – before it gets cold! Getting someone to clean the chimney will be much easier and cheaper now in September than when a storm is on the way! Clean around the heat source and keep dust, cobwebs and other flammable things away from ignition sources. Check to make sure propane systems are working properly. While you’re at this install or maintain carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, and get extinguishers serviced. Having fully charged fire extinguishers can mean getting fires when small.

2. Clean filters on the dryer after every use – pull out lint. Also clean the air tube and around it to a make sure dust and lint is kept cleaned out. Lint is highly flammable! Take a handful from your next cleaning the vent outside and light a match to it. It’s very effective as a firestarter!

3. Keep firewood, piles of leaves and trash away from the home. This keeps a grass fire from becoming a house fire.

4. Plan and implement fire escape plans. This may be the stop drop and roll but also should be a plan for getting everyone out of the house and to a central point – a tree in the yard or some other fixture away from the house. Teach children what firefighters look like in full dress – children have died because they’re hiding from firefighters desperately trying to rescue them – in the smoke and haze they can appear monsters to a scared child. When they see it outside of the situation they can learn it’s not something to fear.

5. Keep grease cleaned up off the stove. Don’t store containers of shortening, oil or grease on the stove – it’s too easy to turn on a wrong burner and a grease fire happens. One fire started when the family dog leaned up to lick the grease, managed to turn the stove on and lit the wall on fire when the grease ignited. Fortunately except for smoke damage the home was saved, but it was in part a fire extinguisher as well as quick response by the fire department.

Many people think of keeping matches and lighters up, never leaving candles lit and other tips often make public information notices but too often other things don’t. These things done on a regular basis can prevent fires.

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