Dealing with Fires
House Fires: How to prevent them and what to do if you experience one
Every day, 7 people die in house fires- most in homes that lack working smoke alarms. In less than 30 seconds a small flame can evolve into a colossal fire and become life threatening; in less than two minutes your home can be consumed by flames, producing toxic smoke and gases with temperatures hotter than your oven. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths and surprisingly, heat is more dangerous than flames- Room temperature can reach 100° at floor level and a smoldering 600° at eye level. With that being said, smoke and toxic gases are responsible for more deaths than flames and heat.
Kitchen mishaps, electrical sparks, space heaters, playing with matches are all common causes of house fires. However, they are preventable:
- Do not leave cooking unattended- More than 60% of kitchen fires begin on the stove. Also, do not use stove range to heat your home.
- Keep grills at least 10 feet away from siding and out from under branches and roof overhangs.
- Smoking is the leading cause of home fires. ALWAYS smoke outdoors, never in bed, and always use an ashtray, making sure butts are completely stubbed out.
- NEVER smoke in a home where oxygen is used, even if it is turned off.
- Replace all worn, old, or damaged appliance cords immediately. Frayed wires = fires!
- Avoid having multiple appliances plugged into the same receptable and try not to run extension cords underneath rugs.
- Keep combustible objects at least 3 feet away from portable heating devices, such as portable heaters- Make sure they have a thermostat control mechanism and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
- Remove lint from dryer filter after every use.
- Change heating and air conditioning filters regularly.
- Avoid unattended/careless use of candles.
- Portable generators should never be used indoors.
- Make sure combustible and flammable liquids are kept away from any heat source.
- Discuss at least two escape strategies with your family or housemates prior to a fire and designate a meeting spot that is a safe distance from the home.
- A working smoke detector significantly increases chances of surviving a deadly fire. Place alarms on each floor of your house, even the basement, and if possible, in every bedroom. Test batteries monthly and replace them once a year. Replace the alarms themselves every 8-10 years.
- *Contact your local fire department for information on obtaining alarms for people with functional needs, i.e. a vibrating or flashing alarm.
- Have fire extinguishers on each level of the home and/or in fire-prone areas like the kitchen and near the fireplace. Check gauges often to make sure they have a proper charge.
- Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas found in fumes from combustible fuel- it is potentially deadly as it has no odor, taste, or color. Install CO alarms in central locations on each floor of the home, especially outside sleep areas.
Although preventable, fires still occur and figuring out what to do afterward can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming process; it can be hard to decide what to do first as your mind is running around in a million directions.
- Immediately call 9-1-1! But make sure you are out of the house before doing so.
- Call your insurance company. You will most likely receive calls from public adjusters and contractors trying to get your business. It is recommended you speak to no one but your insurance agent.
If you do not have homeowner’s insurance, your family and community might help you get back on your feet. Some organizations that may help are:
- American Red Cross (ARC).
- Salvation Army.
- Religious organizations.
- Public agencies, such as the public health department.
- Community Groups.
- State or municipal emergency services office.
- Nonprofit crisis- counseling centers.
- A fire in your home can cause serious damage to your home and many of your belongings may be badly damaged by flames, heat, smoke, and water. In order to fight the fire, firefighters may have broken windows and cut holes on the roof- Ask your agent or adjuster to recommend restoration companies, like SERVPRO, that can help with cleaning up soot or water damage, boarding up windows, and other construction.
- Contact your landlord or mortgage lender as well as your credit card company to report any cards lost in the fire.
- Check with an accountant or the IRS about special benefits for people recovering from fire loss.
- Save undamaged items from any further destruction. Any items not damaged should be put in a safe place, such as a storage facility.
Handle burnt money as little as possible. If money is only partly burnt, you can take it to your regional Federal Reserve Bank to get it replaced or send it to the Treasury:
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
MCD/OFM, Room 344A
14th and C Streets SW
Washington, DC 20228
- Fully cooperate with the insurance company’s investigation. When a fire claim is reported, it becomes top priority and in most cases the adjuster will be out to see the loss within 24 to 48 hours after receiving the claim.
- Find somewhere to live if you home is unlivable. Most policies include “Loss of Use or Loss or Rents” coverage, which pays for shelter, food, and clothing you may need- Make sure to let local police know that the site will be vacant.
- Do not enter your house or apartment unless the fire department says that it’s safe to do so. If utilities are unsafe, they will be turned off- Do not try to turn them on yourself.
After a fire, your sense of security may be lost, which can significantly disrupt the regularity of daily life and it can become difficult to take care of yourself with so many other anxieties preoccupying your mind. Experiencing such a tragic loss can take an emotional toll on you so pay attention to how you and your loved ones are handling stress, whether related to the fire or not. Make sure to get plenty of rest and ask for help if needed. Watch pets as well for any changes in their behavior. Scared animals often react by biting or scratching. Keep them out of the home until after the cleanup is done to keep them safe.
It is common to experience a variety of reactions such as:
- Feeling physically or mentally drained.
- Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused.
- Becoming easily frustrated more frequently.
- Becoming more argumentative with family and friends.
- Feeling overly tired, sad, numb, lonely, or worried.
- Undergoing changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
Try to accept whatever reactions you experience as most of them are temporary and should go away over time. If the above reactions hang around for two weeks or longer is it suggested that you seek help from a medical professional.
For more advice on fire prevention and what you should do after a fire, contact SERVPRO of Cuyahoga South at (440) 237-0077.