In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a massive fire. If you are trapped inside, you will be racing against the clock. The temperature in the room will rapidly rise to about 600 Fahrenheit. Thick black smoke will prevent you from finding an escape route, while the poisonous gases make it difficult to think clearly. Within five minutes from that first little flare-up, the typical house will be totally engulfed in flames.

After a house fire starts, you typically have less than three minutes to escape safely. Sadly, the odds are not with you. Learning how to prevent house fires is essential.

House fire facts

One in every 326 households in the United States has experienced a house fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Most fires in the home occur during November through March and are more likely to happen during 5 to 8 p.m.

Four out of five (80%) fire deaths and about three-quarters (74%) of all reported fire injuries were caused by fires that happened inside homes, according to NFPA’s Home Structure Fires report. But according to the American Red Cross, 80% of Americans don’t realize that house fires are the single most common disaster across the nation.

What causes house fires?

The majority of house fires can be traced back to three causes, with the most common being:

  • Cooking
  • Heating
  • Electrical systems such as wiring, outlets, switches and cords

NFPA’s research shows that cooking is consistently the leading cause of both house fires and fire injuries at home. And that’s just the reported fires, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that for every documented incident, another 50 cooking equipment fires are unreported.

Cooking

The Red Cross offers these kitchen-focused fire prevention tips:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. Regularly check on simmering, baking, boiling or roasting food.
  • Don’t leave the stove/oven or other cooking appliances on when someone is not at home
  • Don’t wear loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking
  • Enforce a "kid-free zone" of 3 feet around the stove
  • Keep anything that can catch on fire away from your stovetop and oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup

Heating and electric

Ready.gov offers excellent fire prevention tips on its home fires page, including information on keeping homes warm and powered-up, safely.

  • Do not force three-prong plugs into a two-slot outlet or extension cord
  • Keep combustible objects at least 3 feet away from portable heating devices
  • Never use a stove range or oven to heat your home
  • Keep combustible and flammable liquids away from heat sources
  • Buy only space heaters evaluated by an independent third-party, such as UL
  • Other heating and electric fire-prevention tips include:
  • Replace frayed or damaged power cords immediately
  • Do not use extension cords for permanent wiring, they are a temporary solution only.
  • Don’t hide extension cords under rugs or place them where people/animals/vehicles will walk or run over the cord. Too much wear and tear will weaken the wires in the cord, which can result in an electrical fire.
  • Don't wrap power cords tightly around any object, it can damage the cord’s wiring and insulation.
  • Modern life often means having more devices than outlets to charge them. But be careful about choosing quality outlet extenders and power strips.
  • Only use lightbulbs that match the fixture's recommended wattage
  • Frequently blown fuses, flickering lights, inconsistent power levels may indicate a problem in your home’s wiring. Have it checked ASAP by a licensed electrician.

Prepare now

There are so many ways to prevent home fires — the tips in this article are just a small sampling of the most effective ways to keep you and your loved ones safer — and yet fires still happen. It’s important to include fire protection into your fire safety planning. UL offers important resources on smoke alarms.

Did you know that something seemingly as simple as a closed door can make a lifesaving difference in how quickly a fire spreads and your ability to escape safely?

And the U.S. Fire Administration has guidance on developing an effective escape plan, including:

  • Have two ways out of each room
  • Crawl low to the floor when escaping to avoid toxic smoke
  • Once you’re out, stay out
  • Know where to meet after the escape
  • Meet somewhere near the front of your home, so firefighters know you are out
  • Practice your fire escape plan regularly

The statistics about house fires are scary and hard to think about. But prevention and planning will dramatically up your odds of staying safe at home.

SafeBee Top Three®

1: After a house fire starts, you have less than three minutes to escape safely.

2: Cooking is consistently the leading cause of both home fires and home fire injuries.

3: A closed door can increase your chances of surviving a house fire.