A Fact sheet on the Nature of Fire
Every day Americans experience the horror of fire. But most people don't understand fire. Only when we know the true nature of fire, can we prepare our families and ourselves.
Each year more than 4,500 Americans die and more than 60,000 are injured in fires, many of which could be prevented. The United States Fire Administration (USFA), which is an element of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), wants to assist you in educating you about fire, and believes that fire deaths can be reduced by teaching people the basic facts about fire. Below are some simple facts that explain the particular characteristics of fire.
Fire is Fast!
There is little time!
In 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a House. In minutes, a house can be engulfed in flames. Most fires occur in the home when people are asleep. If you wake up to a fire, you won't have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly.
There is only time to escape.
Fire is Hot!
Heat is more threatening than flames. A fire's heat alone can kill. Room temperatures in a fire can be 90 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt clothes to your skin. In three minutes a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once: this is called flashover.
Fire is Dark!
Fire isn't always bright; it's pitch black. Fire starts bright, but in minutes it becomes 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!
Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of these gases can make you drowsy and disoriented. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door and you may not wake up.
Fire Safety Tips
In the event of a fire, remember time is the biggest enemy and every second counts! Escape first. Develop a home fire escape plan and designate a meeting place outside. Make sure everyone in the family knows two ways to escape from every room. Practice feeling your way out with your eyes closed. Never stand up in a fire, always crawl low under the smoke and try to keep your mouth covered. Never return to a burning building for any reason; it may cost you, your life.
Facts on Home Fire Prevention
Once again, more than 4,500 Americans die each year in fires and more than 60,000 are injured. An overwhelming number of fires occur in the home. There are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire. It's not a question of luck. It's a matter of planning ahead.
Every Home Should Have at Least One Smoke Detector
Buy a smoke detector at any hardware or discount store. It's inexpensive protection for you and your family. Install a smoke detector on every level of your home. A working smoke detector can double your chances of survival. Check it monthly, keep it free of dust, and replace the battery at least once a year.
Prevent Electrical Fires
Never overload circuits or extension cords. Do not place cords and wires under rugs, over nails or in high traffic areas. If you have appliances and lamps that sputter, spark or omit an unusual smell, immediately shut them off and replace them or have them professionally repaired. You may also want to have an electrician check the wiring in your house.
Use Appliances Wisely
When using appliances, follow the manufacturer's safety precautions. Overheating, unusual smells, shorts and sparks are all warning signs that appliances need to be shut off, then replaced or repaired. Unplug appliances when not in use. Use safety caps to cover all unused outlets, especially if there are small children in the home.
Portable electric space heaters need their space. Keep anything combustible at least three feet away. Keep fire in the fireplace. Use fire screens and have your chimney cleaned regularly. The creosote build-up can ignite your roof and the entire house. Kerosene heaters should only be used where approved by authorities. Never use gasoline or a camp-stove fuel. Refuel outside and only after the heater has cooled.
Affordable Home Fire Safety Sprinklers
When home fire sprinklers are used with working smoke detectors, your chances of surviving a fire can increase up to 90 percent. Sprinklers are affordable and they can also increase property value while lowering insurance rates. New technology allows sprinklers to be connected directly to your standard home plumbing system. Individual sprinkler heads are only activated where fire strikes. Consider a home sprinkler system whenever renovating, buying or building a house. Contact your local fire department for more information.
Plan Your Escape
Practice an escape plan from every room in the house. Feel your way out with your eyes closed. Caution everyone to stay low to the ground when escaping from fire and never to open doors that are hot. Purchase an approved chain ladder to climb out of rooms above the first floor, and practice using it. Select a location where everyone can meet after escaping the house. Get everyone out quickly, and then call for emergency assistance from a neighbor's home.
Caring for Children
Children under five are naturally curious about fire. Many play with matches and lighters. Tragically, these children set over 100,000 fires every year. Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching your children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
Practice fire safety in your home by following these tips:
- Keep matches and lighters in a safe place.
- Look for signs of fire play, such as burn holes in carpets, clothes or furniture, burnt matches in a closet or under the bed, or disappearing lighters or matches.
- Teach them not to hide from a fire but to get out and stay out.
- Have regular safety drills with your family. Practice escape plans.
Caring for Senior Citizens
Every year 1,000 senior citizens die in fires. Many of these fire deaths could have been prevented. Seniors are especially vulnerable because many live alone and can't respond quickly.
Show your concern for an older person by reminding him or her to:
- Never smoke in bed. And when smoking anywhere else, put out cigars and cigarettes immediately if drowsy.
- Never leave lit cigars, cigarettes, or pipes unattended.
- Never wear dangling sleeves or loose garments when cooking.
- Turn off burners when leaving the kitchen.
- If cooking food must be left unattended, take a potholder or spoon as a reminder.
Facts on Home Electrical Fire Prevention
Electrical fires claim the lives of 200 Americans each year and injure 1,500 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) would like consumers to know that there are simple steps you can take to prevent the loss of life and property resulting from electrical fires.
During a typical year, home appliance and wiring problems account for 50,000 fires, hundreds of deaths, and $600 million in property losses. Home electrical wiring causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances.
December is the most dangerous month for electrical fires. Fire deaths are highest in winter months which call for more indoor activities and increases in lighting, heating, and appliance use. Most electrical wiring fires start in the bedroom.
Most electrical fires result from home appliances that produce "controlled heat," such as irons, electric blankets, and hair dryers. In urban areas, however, portable heaters are the primary cause of home electrical fires.
Electric stoves are involved in 25 percent of home appliance-related fires. However, these fires are mostly the result of careless cooking rather than the stove's malfunction.
Portable heaters cause the most residential fire deaths, while "controlled heat" appliances are the leading cause of residential fire injuries.
In urban areas, faulty wiring accounts for 40 percent of residential electrical fires. Twenty percent of home electrical wiring fires can be traced to the misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
- Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old, or damaged appliance cords immediately.
- Use electrical extension cords wisely and don't overload them.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
- When buying electrical appliances look for products which meet the UL standard for safety.
- Don't allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons and hair dryers.
- Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least three feet from all heaters.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet.
- Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker.
- Use safety closures to "child-proof" electrical outlets.
- Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them.
- Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.
Facts for Teaching Children Fire Safety
Figures show that each year about 450 people are killed and $135 million in property is destroyed in fires attributed to children playing with fire.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) encourages parents to teach children at an early age about the dangers of fire play in an effort to prevent child injuries, fire deaths and fire-setting behavior in the future.
Curious Kids Set Fires
Below are some facts about children and fire safety
- Children under five are curious about fire.
- Often what begins as a natural exploration of the unknown can lead to tragedy.
- Children set over 100,000 fires every year.
- Children make up 24% of all fire deaths.
- Nearly 45% of the fires that kill children under 5 are set by children playing with fire.
- At home, children usually play with fire in bedrooms, in closets, and under beds where there are a lot of things that catch fire easily.
- Too often, child fire-setters are not given proper guidance and supervision by parents and teachers.
- Consequently, they repeat their fire-setting behavior.
Practice Fire Safety in Your Home
- Supervise young children closely
- Do not leave them alone, even for short periods of time.
- Keep matches and lighters in a secured drawer or cabinet.
- Have your children tell you when they find matches and lighters.
- Check under beds and in closets for burned matches, evidence your child may be playing with fire.
- Develop a home fire escape plan, practice it with your children.
- Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
- Teach children the nature of fire. It is FAST, HOT, DARK and DEADLY!
- Teach children not to hide from firefighters, but to get out quickly and call for help from another location.
- Show children how to crawl low on the floor, below the smoke, to get out of the house and stay out in the case of fire.
- Demonstrate how to stop, drop to the ground, and roll if their clothes catch fire.
Install smoke detectors on every level in your home. Familiarize children with the sound of your smoke detector. Check the smoke detector each month and replace its batteries at least once a year.
Replace the smoke detector every ten years!
Facts on Rural Fire Safety and Prevention
People living in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire than those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas. The misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters, kerosene heaters and fireplaces are especially common risks in rural areas and cause over 500 deaths a year. These heating sources are one of the most rapidly increasing cause of fires in the United States.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) believes rural fire problems can be reduced by teaching people to recognize the hazards.
By following some of the outlined precautionary steps, individuals can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a fire casualty.
Electric Space Heaters
Buy only heaters with the UL safety listing. Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over. Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. Space heaters need space; keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater. Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use.
Buy only UL approved heaters and check with your local fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community. Never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flair-up easily. Only use crystal clear, K-1 kerosene. Never overfill any portable heater. Use the kerosene heater in a well ventilated room.
Fireplaces regularly build up creosote in their chimneys. They need to be cleaned out frequently and chimneys should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires. Check to make sure the damper is open before starting any fire. Never burn trash, paper, or green wood in your fireplace--these materials cause heavy creosote build-up and are difficult to control. Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks. Don't wear loose-fitting clothes near any open flame.
Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed. Store cooled ashes in a tightly sealed metal container outside the home.
A final reinforcement: Having a working smoke detector dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.