4 Causes of House Fires and How to Minimize Your Risk

by James Hendrickson
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Remarkably, some of the most common behaviors can be quite dangerous when they involve electricity, heat or open flames. The very act of keeping your home warm, preparing a meal, or enjoying a romantic evening can turn comfort into strife when flames break out. Here are four causes of house fires and how to minimize your risk of experiencing one.

Electrical Malfunctions

Ever seen an electrical outlet with two multiport adapters in it, so it would support six different electrical devices? Said simply, that’s asking for it folks. All you need is for one of those devices to overheat the outlet and whoof!, your home becomes tinder for an electrical fire. It’s far better to use a power strip with a circuit breaker and a surge protector built in.

Similarly, if an electrical cord gets cut, the temptation to splice it back together and secure it with electrical tape is great. It’s also an invitation for a fire, don’t do it. Covering electrical cords with rugs, ignoring strange smells from electrical devices and using light bulbs rated too high for a fixture can also lead to fires.

Space heaters should be used with care as well. Monitor them carefully to avoid letting flammable items come into contact with their heating elements. Clothes dryers can also cause fires if their lint traps are left clogged. This blocks the ventilation opening, which traps the hot air, which can then become intense enough to ignite the lint.

Candles, Fireplaces—and Cigarettes

An open flame in the home, under controlled circumstances, can be quite beautiful. There’s something soothing about gazing into a fireplace as flames dance merrily. However, keep in mind they are itching for an opportunity to escape the bounds of the fireplace or the wicks of those candles and consume as much fuel and oxygen as possible.

To an open flame, your home looks like a delicious meal, which is why you never leave one unattended. Extinguish the fireplace before you go to bed and blow all of those candles out before you leave the room—even if just for a moment. Otherwise, you could get a lot more flames than you bargained for.

By the way, smoking is bad for more than just your respiratory system. Falling asleep with a lit cigarette has caused many residential conflagrations. If you have to smoke, avoid doing so in bed or when you’re drowsy. In case you’ve ever wondered, this is one of the reasons a homeowners insurance calculator will ask if there are smokers in the home.


While we’re discussing fireplaces, avoid burning cardboard, wrapping paper, trash and trees in them—these can actually start a fire inside your chimney. An annual chimney inspection and cleaning (if needed) before autumn sets in is a must as well. Excess soot can become flammable under the right conditions and start a fire you won’t know about until it’s too late. The spark arrester on top of your chimney should also be subjected to a yearly inspection to reduce the risk of a roof fire.

Kitchen Fires

OK, so let’s say you’re deep-frying some popcorn shrimp when suddenly the pot of grease ignites. Do you throw water on it to put it out? If you answered yes, you just initiated a huge kitchen fire. Oil and water don’t mix. Throwing water on a grease fire makes it pop out onto the walls and flooring—while still burning.

Kitchen fires can be tricky to fight. Keep a fire extinguisher rated for electrical fires and grease fires near your stove at all times. Avoid hanging dishtowels on the oven door and do not cook in bathrobes or anything with flowing sleeves. These can come into contact with the heat source and ignite.

Observing these four causes of house fires will minimize your risk of experiencing one in your home. Always keep at least one fire extinguisher handy and always in the same place so if you need it quickly, you can go directly to it out of instinct. Fires can’t always be prevented, but a bit of common sense can greatly reduce the possibility.

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