Of all the risks your home faces, fire is perhaps the cruelest. Unlike a thief who might target electronics or jewelry, fire destroys everything in its path – valuables, family mementos and, tragically, it claims about 100 lives every year across Washington and Oregon. House fires have the potential of a significant emotional impact too.
Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to safeguard your home and family. Start with these 10 worry-less tips:
- Kitchens. Cooking is the No. 1 cause of house fires. Never leave a hot cooking surface unattended. Don't try to put out grease fires with water. Instead, turn off the burner and smother the flames with a kitchen fire extinguisher. Or, if you don't have one, carefully slide the pan off the heat and cover it with a lid or sturdy cookie sheet. Keep towels, cookbooks and even loose bathrobe sleeves away from burners.
- Chimneys and woodstoves. If you burn just half a cord of wood per year, have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned annually to remove flammable creosote buildup. Never burn trash, wrapping paper or even old holiday trees in your fireplace or woodstove. They burn too hot and could spark a chimney fire or send hot embers floating onto your roof. Make sure fireplace spark screens and chimney caps (used to keep out rain, animals and debris while trapping embers) aren't rusted through.
- Candles. Extinguish candles before you leave the room. Use only glass or metal containers, and keep them away from decorations and combustibles.
- Space heaters. Use space heaters on a sturdy, flat surface and keep them three feet away from anything flammable – curtains, furniture, papers and bedding.
- Dryers. Up to 25% of lint escapes your removable screen, meaning it can lodge in the vent, clogging it, overheating and sparking a fire. Get your dryer's vent hose professionally cleaned annually (depending on the amount and type of laundry you do), and check periodically to make sure the hose isn't smashed behind the dryer.
- Wiring and appliances. Inspect electrical cords for signs of fraying. Never run cords under carpets. If you notice a rubbery or plastic odor coming from any appliance, turn it off, unplug it and call for repairs. That odd smell may be wires burning.
- Replace smoke detectors. Over time, smoke detectors lose their sensitivity. If yours is older than 10 years, replace it. Also, change the batteries twice a year.
- Bedrooms. Sleep with doors closed. It slows a fire and buys you precious time to escape. That's more critical now than ever, since today's open-concept homes allow flames to spread faster than they do in more compartmentalized designs, and particle board, composites and veneers used in modern construction burn faster than solid wood.
- Fire extinguishers. Make sure everyone in your family knows the P-A-S-S technique to knock down a small fire quickly.
- Escape plan. Know two ways out of every room and practice your escape plan twice a year. And remember: In a fire, don't call 9-1-1 until you're safely out of the house, and never run back inside to save belongings. Your life is worth more than any possession.
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