Extinguish Your Chance of a House Fire

Here are some fire safety tips and stories behind recent blazes in honor of Fire Prevention Week.

This house fire in Manassas, Va., caused by a discarded cigarette, left 11 people homeless. Image: Manassas Volunteer Fire Company

Malibu beach houses and mobile homes all burn down. Any home can catch fire and any home owner can die in the blaze. In 2009, house fires caused 2,565 deaths, 12,650 injuries, and $7.6 billion in direct damage. Usually one or two people die per fatal fire. But that’s not always the case. Last year, nine fires resulted in 59 deaths. While these numbers symbolize staggering amounts of loss, they are on the decline.

Some of the most devastating structure fires happened decades ago. On April 21, 1930, 320 people died in a fire in an Ohio penitentiary. Twenty-seven years prior, 602 people were killed in a fire in a Chicago theater. Another 27 years before that, 295 people died from a fire in a Brooklyn theater.

But arguably the most famous fire is the one that took down nearly an entire city. From October 8 through October 9 in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire blazed through the Midwestern hub, causing 250 deaths. The events in Chicago inspired the creation of the first Fire Prevention Day on October 9, 1911.

Today we have Fire Prevention Week that lasts from October 3 through 9, sponsored by the NFPA. To contribute to the awareness of fire safety and prevention, and to mark this noteworthy anniversary, we offer readers a reminder of the deadly power of fires and key tips for prevention.


In mid-September, a blaze awoke Nick Grisham, fiance of Big Brother star Britney Haynes, in their Arkansas rental property. He escaped unscathed with the couple’s two dogs, but the damage to the home is estimated at $50,000.

This all happened just hours before Britney appeared on the CBS show’s season finale. No one told her about the fire until after the episode wrapped. The cause of the conflagration is blamed on embers from a small backyard grill that ignited a patch of grass. According to the NFPA, cooking fires cause 40% of house fires and 36% of fire-related injuries.

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Position your grill away from siding, deck railings, and low-hanging branches.
  • Remove grease buildup in the tray below the grill regularly, as it could lead to a fire.
  • If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire (oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains) away from your stovetop.


Eleven people were rendered homeless in Manassas, Va., after a cigarette that was discarded in a planter caused a massive fire that extended down a residential block, several news sites reported. Fortunately only three people reported minor injuries, but eight homes were damaged.

Cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of house fire-related deaths. The NFPA estimates that nearly one in four people killed in a house fire die because of smoking-related accidents inside and outside the home.

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • When smoking outside, make sure the cigarette is fully out before tossing it.
  • Indoors, use large, deep ashtrays on a sturdy table.
  • Consider smoking fire-safe cigarettes.


Everyone throws clothes on the bedroom floor every once in a while. But the act caused a dangerous blaze in a home in Lynchburg, Va., after clothes lying on top of an electrical cord ignited, WSET-TV reported. An upstairs bedroom was heavily damaged, while the rest of the home sustained smoke damage.

During an average year, electrical problems in the home cause 485 deaths and $868 million in property losses, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Electrical fires are most common during the winter months when people spend more time indoors. 

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Do not use damaged or loose electrical cords.
  • Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets.
  • In homes with small children, make sure your home has tamper-resistant outlets.
  • Plug only one high-wattage appliance into an outlet at a time.
  • Do not use bulbs that exceed a lamp’s recommended wattage.


No one is immune from the devastating affects of fire. TV star Ricki Lake’s Malibu home was set ablaze after a couch caught fire while she refueled a portable heater. She, her two sons and their dog escaped unharmed and firefighters were able to quickly put out the flames, which reached 30 feet.

Residential heating fires occur most often in the winter months as expected with the peak being in January and February.

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Keep anything flammable more than three feet away from heating appliances.
  • Dissuade your children from playing around open fires and space heaters.
  • Do not use your oven to heat your home.
  • Turn off portable heaters when leaving the device unattended, including when going to bed.


A 5-year-old girl started a fire that destroyed two mobile homes in Fort Collins, Co., by playing with a cigarette lighter in her bedroom, the Coloradoan reported at the end of September. Her mother had been asleep at the time the blaze started.

Children are responsible more than 50% of the intentionally set fires in the United States. Small children (preschoolers and kindergartners) are most likely to start fires by playing with matches or lighters, and they are also most likely to die in them.

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach and sight.
  • Only use lighters designed with child-resistant features, and remember child-resistant does not mean child-proof.

Simply observing Fire Prevention Week isn’t enough. Fire season lasts all year. By observing and practicing even a few of these safety tips at home, you can prevent fatal fire disasters from happening in your home.