Like water, fire is both essential for human civilization and an incredibly destructive element. When handled properly, fire can heat our homes and cook our meals. However, when fire gets out of hand, it can ruin our houses and threaten our lives.

Although we’ve learned much about fire since the time of Prometheus, that doesn’t mean we should take fire safety lightly. Insights from the US Fire Administration (USFA) show that fire-related emergencies are still incredibly high. On average, firefighters respond to over 1.25 million fires per year. The USFA also suggests fire-related deaths are on the rise.

Just How Common Are Fires In The USA?

As mentioned above, the USFA estimates firefighters respond to approximately 1.25 million fires annually. Of these annual fire cases, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) claims 346,800 were residential homes. The other fires could be at businesses or apartment complexes.

While the total number of fires is trending downward, the USFA warns that fire-related deaths in the USA are rising. In 2010, there were 3,120 fire-related fatalities, but that spiked to 3,704 in 2019. The NFPA found that the average for fire-related deaths is now around 3,500 per year.

Fire-related injuries also appear to be on the rise in recent years. According to 2020 data from the NFPA, there were 15,200 fire injuries such as burns in 2020. That’s up significantly from 14,650 injuries in 2016.

It’s important to mention that most fire-related deaths are due to smoke inhalation. Stanford Children’s Health reports that roughly 30 percent of fire deaths are related to direct flame exposure. The remaining 70 percent of fire-related deaths happen due to inhaling toxic fumes in an enclosed space.

The Red Cross claims people only have about 2 minutes to safely get outside if they’re caught in a burning home. This time could be less if people have pre-existing health concerns, particularly lung issues.

Where Do Most Home Fires In The US Start?

Every fire safety authority agrees that most residential fires start in the kitchen. Data from the NFPA suggests that 49 percent of fires between 2015 – 2019 began in the kitchen area. The USFA’s data also claims about 50 percent of total residential fires in the USA started in the kitchen. Cooking accounted for 29.9 percent of nonresidential fires in the US.

According to USFA analysts, cooking was the top known cause of residential fires that caused injuries (30 percent of cases). At 12.8 percent, “unintentional carelessness” was the second known cause of residential fires. The USFA also found that open flames accounted for 7.9 percent of fires in the USA.

However, it’s worth mentioning that “unintentional carelessness” was the top reason behind all fires (19.7 percent), including cases that didn’t result in injuries. The USFA also says smoking is another common cause of fires at 12.3 percent of cases.

Speaking of smoking, the NFPA estimates about 23 percent of civilian deaths in fire cases were in fires caused by smokable materials (e.g., cigarettes, joints, and vaporizers). That’s slightly more than the total deaths from cooking-related fires (20 percent).

What Are The Best Ways To Prevent Residential Fires?

High-quality smoke detectors will always be essential for fire safety. The NFPA says that smoke alarms were present in almost 75 percent of US homes that reported a fire between 2014 – 2018.

NFPA data also suggests people who don’t have a smoke alarm are at a greater risk of dying in a fire. Indeed, 41 percent of fire-related fatalities in the USA were in homes with no fire alarms. Another 16 percent of deaths happened in houses with non-functioning smoke detectors. The NFPA notes that people in homes with operational smoke detectors have a ~ 55 percent lower risk of death and injury than those without fire detectors.

The USFA recommends replacing smoke detectors once every ten years. Authorities also say residents should get in the habit of checking their smoke detectors at least twice per year.

Extra time is the main reason smoke detectors have proven so effective. As mentioned above, safety experts estimate people only have two minutes to evacuate a burning building. Smoke alarms will alert residents to a fire long before they notice it with their five senses, which will give everyone more time to evacuate.

Planning, rehearsing, and evacuation

Speaking of time, fire safety organizations recommend planning and rehearsing an evacuation plan. Residents should know a few ways to get out of a burning building and practice this routine a few times each year. It’s also essential for everyone to have their local fire department’s number on speed dial to alert authorities ASAP.

On top of installing smoke detectors and creating an evacuation plan, residents must take extra precautions when in high-risk areas like the kitchen. According to the Tufts Department of Public Safety, adults should never leave a burning stovetop unattended. It’s also crucial to keep flammable materials like towels or alcohol far from heat sources in the kitchen.

The USFA encourages smokers to invest in an ashtray and always smoke in a designated area outside. Authorities also say smokers should also be wary of any flammable materials nearby and always put out their cigarettes completely in an ashtray.

The NFPA also recommends residents place a few high-quality fire extinguishers in their homes, especially in high-risk areas like the kitchen. Citizens should review how to use their fire extinguishers a few times each year so they’re prepared should a fire erupt in their room.

When The Smoke Alarm Sounds, Sprint To Safety!

When people hear a smoke alarm blaring, safety authorities urge them to drop everything and head for safety. You don’t have much time to evacuate your home, so you must prioritize getting outdoors as quickly as possible. Once everyone goes through a room, try your best to shut each door behind you. This will help contain the blaze and give you more precious time to get outdoors.

Only experienced firefighters should rush back into a burning house if others couldn’t escape. Organizations like the Red Cross strongly recommend calling emergency personnel once you’re in a safe area outdoors and waiting for firefighters to arrive. Even if you have professional training, please listen to the emergency dispatcher’s advice and wait for firefighters with the proper safety gear to arrive on the scene.

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