Fire is one of the most important elements in our lives. We use it to cook our food, heat our homes, and power our vehicles. Yet, fires are still one of the most primal dangers humans face.
The thing that makes residential fires particularly scary is that they occur in the home. The idea that the place we feel safest could go up in flames is almost unfathomable. While some causes of house fires are freak accidents, most can be prevented.
FEMA reported over 1.3 million structure fires in the United States in 2018, and nearly 30% of them were residential fires.
Nearly 380,000 residential fires annually mean that we average more than 1,000 fires per day, leaving tens of thousands of people suffering injury or death each year.
Knowing a little about how fires start will help you keep your loved ones safe by avoiding common causes.
Why are there so many house fires?
We’ve come a long way since we started harnessing the power of fire for practical purposes. Appliances and utilities have become much safer, and pose a significantly lower fire risk than they used to.
The fact is, most fires today are caused by some form of human error. Around two-thirds of residential fires are caused by cooking mishaps, leaving an open flame unattended, or some other human cause.
What causes most house fires in the US?
The most common cause of house fires is cooking, hands down. Mishaps in the kitchen account for approximately half of all residential fires. Firefighters around the country prepared for an influx of house fires surrounding Thanksgiving 2020 since so many novice cooks would be preparing their first-ever turkey dinners to share over streaming video. Of all the primary causes of house fires, cooking mishaps may be the most preventable.
The second leading cause of house fires is home heating system fires. In a modern home, most flames that aren’t used for cooking are used for heating. Heating systems also contain another variable. Even in the absence of a flame, the systems can generate enough heat to start a fire if flammable materials are placed too close to them. Always ensure adequate space around anything in the home that generates heat.
What appliances are most likely causes of house fires?
While appliances aren’t causing the lion’s share of house fires, they may cause more than you think. With so many appliances in modern homes, it’s good to know which are likely sources of fire and which aren’t. Nearly anything with electrical components can start a fire. Here are a few of the usual suspects:
- Cooking Ranges – The cooking range is a fairly obvious one. What may not be so obvious is that electric ranges cause more fires than gas ranges. When you remove the human error from the equation, electric ranges are more likely to have an electrical short that causes fires.
- Dishwashers – This is the item on the list that surprises most people. The appliance uses a lot of water, and we generally don’t associate the dishwasher with flames. But, if you’ve ever opened the dishwasher immediately after the cycle completes, you may associate it with heat. Dishwashers generate an enormous amount of heat in the drying cycle, and if the mechanisms that generate that heat are faulty, flames can erupt. It’s important to maintain your machine well and have it inspected occasionally.
- Laundry washers and dryers – While not the number one cause of house fires in this category, laundry washers and dryers cause a lot of fires. One of the often missed causes with the dryer is the lint trap and exhaust. If too much lint collects in the exhaust tube, the heat passing through can generate fire. Also, if the user consistently forgets to clean the lint trap, excess lint can build up against the drum and cause a fire through friction. It’s a good idea to keep your laundry appliances clean and maintained to avoid fires.
Can an electrical fire start if nothing is plugged in?
Electricity is a powerful form of energy. It can allow us to pull invisible waves from the sky, decoding them into streaming video in the palms of our hands. It has also sparked some of the largest fires in our history. We’ve been bringing it into our homes for decades, and new advances make it safer every day. But, how safe are those receptacles in our walls?
The short answer to whether an electrical fire can start without anything plugged into the outlet is, probably not. If your home is up to code, the electrical system flowing through your walls should be very stable and safe. That doesn’t mean a fire can’t start in an unoccupied outlet.
If your house is very old, and many of the wires and outlets were installed by an inexperienced homeowner on his weekends, some of that work may not pass safety inspections. At the end of the day, if your house is up to code, an unused outlet shouldn’t be one of the causes of electrical fires that worries you.
What are the 5 classes of fire?
When a fire starts in a house, it’s incredibly helpful to understand what kind of fire you are dealing with. This will help you extinguish it properly. Each of the causes of house fires we’ve covered so far may be dealt with differently, depending on what is fueling the fire.
- Class A – Class A fires involve solid materials like wood, trash, and textiles. These fires are most familiar to us and are the most easily extinguished.
- Class B – Class B fires involve flammable liquids like gasoline, alcohol, diesel, or oil (not cooking oils). This class isn’t super common in house fires.
- Class C – Class C fires involve electrical components and equipment as fuel sources. This includes fires started by faulty wiring in walls, circuit breakers, and appliances.
- Class D – Class D fires involve metals. In rare instances, metal can ignite. This class rating is also uncommon in house fires.
- Class K – Class K fires involve cooking oils and fats. Sometimes they are lumped in with Class B, but they are their own beast. These fires are very common causes of house fires.
House fires can be scary things, but familiarizing yourself with how they start and how to stop or slow their spread can prevent you from having to experience one. Fire is a wonderful thing. We just don’t want it eating our houses.