Residential fire risks: How safe are you?

| April 9, 2013
photo of home in flames

Home fires are the most deadly, a new study reports. (Photo by Colin Kinnear, via Creative Commons.)

For most of us, home is a place where we feel safe from many of the dangers of the world, including fire. According to a survey released in March by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPA), 65 percent of people feel safer from fire hazards at home than when in a commercial or public building.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it could also be deadly.

According to data collected by the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System, 76 percent of all civilian fire injuries from 2009 to 2011 occurred in homes. And many of those fires were caused by hazards that could have been easily reduced, given an understanding of the risk and prevention methods.

Let’s take a look at the factors that contribute to injuries and deaths from residential fires, and how we can decrease the chance of a fire starting – and spreading – at home.

A reminder to make sure that a home’s smoke alarms are all functioning properly. (Photo by Albert Bridge, via Creative Commons.)

A reminder to make sure that a home’s smoke alarms are all functioning properly. (Photo by Albert Bridge, via Creative Commons.)


When is sleeping bad for your health? When it makes you oblivious to a fire. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) found that being asleep was the leading human factor that contributed to injuries in residential fires, and 55 percent of the deaths (from 2008 to 2010) occurred in the bedroom. “It’s been proven that people cannot wake up from the smell of fire while sleeping,” the administration says, so it’s vital that every level of the home, including the basement, has a smoke alarm in good working order.

Cooking mishaps

“Cooking” was the primary cause for residential fires that resulted in injuries, according to the USFA. Always use equipment that meets code and is tested and approved by a recognized testing facility, and follow the manufacturers’ instructions for installation.

fire escape emergency sign

While fire exit signs are helpful for evacuation in public buildings, households must create – and practice – their own exit plan. (Photo via

Escape issues

While public buildings are required to have emergency exit routes that are clearly marked with “Fire Escape” or “Exit” signs, that’s unfortunately not the case in homes. From 2008 to 2010, the majority of residential fire deaths involved exits that were locked, blocked by smoke or flame, too far away, or unfamiliar to occupants.

Because of that, the USFA recommends that households plan and practice at least two escape routes, in case the primary route is blocked by the fire. (FEMA provides additional guidance for preparing and practicing a fire escape plan.)

Sources of heat and flames

Unattended candles, lit cigarettes and space heaters, as well as improperly maintained appliances, often create the spark that starts a residential fire. The pros recommend taking simple steps such as having the furnace inspected regularly by a professional, changing the dryer’s lint trap after every use, and making sure that space heaters, cigarettes and candles are kept away from drapery and furnishings, and are never lit or used when unmonitored.

Category: Safety Tips