Disaster Preparedness Guide: House Fires

From bestreviews.com
Kailey Fralick

Never leave a flame unwatched, even if it's as small as a candle. Things can easily get knocked over and a small flame can grow rapidly.

House fire preparedness guide

House fires can start in many ways. Your home could get hit by lightning. Someone could forget to turn off a stove or blow out a candle. Embers from a fireplace could catch on the carpet or a curtain. But while there can be many different causes, the precautions you should take to protect yourself and your family remain the same in all instances.

Here's a quick preparedness guide to help you get started. It covers the most important actions you can take before, during, and after a house fire.

Facts about house fires

A fire can become life-threatening within two minutes. It can engulf an entire house within five minutes.

Three out of every five house fire deaths occur in homes that have no working smoke alarms.

Cooking is the leading cause of house fires in the U.S.

Temperatures inside a burning house can reach upwards of 600°F, which is enough to burn skin, melt clothing, and damage your lungs.

Smoke inhalation causes three times as many deaths as burns in house fires.

More house fires are typically seen on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year.

House fire prevention and preparation

Learn basic fire safety. Do you know how to cook and use electrical appliances and fireplaces safely? Do the children in your home know not to play with matches and lighters? Have you taken the time to secure matches, lighters, and other potential fire hazards in your home so young children do not play with them? Educating yourself and your family on fire safety practices is one of the most important preventive measures you can take.
Create a fire escape plan. In the event of a fire, you may panic and not be able to think clearly. Before an emergency occurs, come up with two potential exits from every room in your home, and practice using those exits at least twice a year with your family.
Install smoke alarms, and make sure they are functioning properly. You should have a smoke alarm on every floor of your home and inside every bedroom. Test the batteries at least once a month, and replace them at least once per year.
Consider installing a sprinkler system. Installing a sprinkler system in your home can minimize the damage of a fire and prevent it from growing out of control.
Know how to use a fire extinguisher, and have one close at hand. Teach the other members of your household how to use it as well.
Make copies of important documents. Store important documents, such as your homeowner insurance policy, somewhere outside of the home or online so you won't lose the information.
Sleep with your door closed. Fires can quickly deplete a home of oxygen, causing you to suffocate. Keeping your door closed helps preserve the oxygen in your room, and it may keep the flames out for a little longer.

What to do when a house fire occurs

If your house is on fire, you have only minutes to act and get out safely. Here are some tips you should follow.

Stay low to the ground. Follow your predetermined evacuation route, and crawl toward the exit. The floor is safer because it is cooler, and smoke and poisonous gases tend to collect on the ceiling first.
Be cautious when opening doors. Feel the doorknob with the back of your hand to assess whether or not there is fire on the other side. If there is, look for another way out.
Call 911 as soon as you can. Alert the authorities to any people or pets that are still trapped inside the home.
If you're trapped, try to stay calm and signal for help. Cover cracks around doors with tape or cloth to prevent smoke from coming in. Shine a light or wave a cloth out the window to signal your whereabouts.
Stop, drop, and roll if you catch fire. Drop to the ground, cover your face, and roll around until the fire is put out.

Take these steps after a house fire occurs

The first thing you should do is seek medical attention for burns and other injuries. There will most likely be medical personnel on scene to help you.
Don't re-enter your home until a professional tells you it's safe to do so. Wait for the fire department to ensure that it is structurally sound and the utilities are safe to use.
Document all of the damages. It's important to keep track of what was damaged in the fire and any expenses related to clean-up or temporary housing. Contact your insurance company so they can begin work on your claim as soon as possible.


Don't stop to gather your possessions before you exit the house. The fire will likely consume your whole home within minutes, making it more difficult to get out.

Don't go back into the house to retrieve people or pets. You could end up getting trapped yourself. Instead, wait for firefighters to arrive, and alert them to the people and pets still trapped inside.

Don't disable smoke alarms while you're cooking. If you walk away from the stove and a fire starts -- or if you fail to reconnect the smoke alarm later -- you could be caught off guard when a fire starts.

Don't smoke in the house. Soak cigarette butts in water before you throw them out to prevent them from catching fire.

Don't leave children unattended near an open flame or hot stove. They could accidentally start a fire or sustain a severe injury.


Q. My house has had the same smoke alarm since I moved in. Is that okay?

A. Smoke alarms should be replaced every eight to 10 years. There should be a date listed on the smoke alarm so you know when it needs replacing. You should also replace your smoke alarm immediately if it stops working for any reason.

The batteries of your smoke alarm will need to be replaced much more often. Change the batteries at least once a year or when the alarm chirps at you to signal that the battery is low.

Q. I live in an multi-story apartment building. What should my fire escape plan be?

A. Ideally, there will still be multiple ways out of the apartment. There may be a fire escape out of the window and stairs that lead to the ground floor. You should never take an elevator during a fire in case it falls.

Q. I've heard portable space heaters cause fires. Are they safe?

A. Portable space heaters are safe as long as you use them correctly. You should look for one that has been tested and verified as safe by a company like Underwriters Laboratory (UL). It should also have an auto-shutoff function if it gets too hot. Keep any potentially flammable material at least three feet away from the space heater while it's on.


Kailey is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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