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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Bad habits that can cause a home fire

STILLWATER, Okla. – A recent study by the National Fire Protection Association shows fire departments respond to home fires about 1,000 times per day. That equates to 42 fires every hour, which cause about $228 in damage each and every second.

Consider the kitchen. While the leading cause of home fires is cooking, or rather, unattended cooking, there are several bad habits homeowners may have that can lead to flames, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.

“We’ve all probably done it – stepping away from the stove to answer a quick phone call or attend to a child’s needs. However, it takes only a few seconds for unattended cooking to catch fire,” Peek said. “For example, frying foods is risky as the oil can quickly overheat and catch on fire.”

Cooking is not the only cause of fires in the kitchen. Crowding appliances together on the counter also is a bad habit to have.

Peek said electrical appliances need adequate space around them to dissipate the heat they generate. Crowding them together on the counter does not allow for proper heat dispersal.

“Major appliances should be plugged directly into the wall rather than an extension cord or power strip. When considering small appliances, such as toasters, coffee pots and bread machines, it may seem handier to have all of your appliances clumped together in the same area, but it simply isn’t safe,” she said. “More than one heat-producing appliance in an outlet at one time risks overloading the wiring, which puts you, your family and your home at risk for an electrical fire.”

Be careful when using extension cords. It never is a good idea to plug one extension cord into another in order to reach an outlet. Homeowners who need more outlets should consult a licensed electrician to install them. Also, make sure your extension cord is not compromised. For example, frayed or damaged cords are dangerous. A compromised cord can cause an electric shock, as well as increase your fire risk.

Never leave an appliance on if you are leaving the house. The only exception to this is a slow cooker.

Not all appliances that can be a fire danger are located in the kitchen. Clothes dryers are reportedly the cause of nearly 3,000 home fires each year, causing an estimated $35 million in property loss.

“It’s imperative to clean the dryer on a regular basis. Lint collects not only on the filter, but around the drum and in the vent. The heat from the dryer can’t escape due to the lint buildup, which can cause the lint to catch on fire,” Peek said. “Clean the lint trap after every load, and check the vent hose for buildup at least once per year.”

Although it seems obvious, candles are another culprit of home fires. They can easily be knocked over by a pet or child, so it is important to extinguish them when leaving the room. Never leave a burning candle unattended.

While a fireplace adds a certain charm to any home, creosote, the oily substance that builds up in your fireplace, is the leading cause of chimney fires. Have your chimney inspected every year and cleaned as needed.

“Living in Oklahoma, homeowners are keenly aware of the damage caused by natural disasters such as tornadoes or flooding. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to stop a tornado,” Peek said. “However, keeping these tips in mind certainly puts you ahead of the game when it comes to protecting your home from fire.”


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Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
136 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078