A small fire in the home can quickly get out of control – sometimes, in mere minutes. So, when you notice a fire, it’s important to act immediately.
The vast majority of house fires begin in the kitchen, usually due to inattention while cooking. Many of these fires are oil-based (grease) fires, which should never be put out using water. When water is used on a grease fire, scalding steam and hot grease can explode out of the original fire, rapidly spreading both the fire and flames. Likewise, most grill fires are also grease fires, occurring when grease buildup on grill grates catch fire. And, as with grease fires in the kitchen, water should never be used to put out any type of grease fire. Other causes of house fires include discarded cigarettes, lightning strikes, unattended candles, faulty wiring and electrical malfunctions, such as from old/damaged appliances.
When a fire occurs in the home, you have a short window of time to put it out. Once a fire spreads beyond containment, breathing in the hot air can literally burn your airways. In addition, smoke inhalation is toxic – and can kill you. It all happens much faster than you’d imagine. With house fires, the carbon monoxide naturally emitted by fire will render you unconscious before you even realize you’re being poisoned.
What to Do
In order for combustion to occur, three things are necessary: fuel (e.g., wood, paper, grease), heat and oxygen. Removing or eliminating any of these elements is necessary to put out house fires, especially at the beginning stage. Smothering the fire is one good option, as long as what you are doing eliminates the fire’s supply of oxygen. For example, when you put a metal cooking lid or baking sheet over a pan in which food is on fire to snuff it out.
Here's what you should do in the event of a small fire:
- Turn off the heat source or unplug the device causing the fire (if it’s safe to do so).
- Smother the fire using recommended nonflammable items, such as:
- Metal pot lid or baking sheet
- Enough baking soda, salt, or sand to put out the flames
- Fire extinguisher
- Fire blanket*
- If the fire is inside the oven or microwave, your first option should be to keep the oven/microwave door closed. The lack of oxygen should cause the fire to die out on its own.
*Fire blankets are made of fire-retardant materials, such as fiberglass, and may also be used on a person whose clothes are on fire. Be sure to leave it over the fire until the area is cooled; removing it too soon may cause the fire to reignite.
If the fire is large or already spreading, call 911 and leave the house immediately. Drop to the floor and crawl out, if you need to, to avoid breathing in poisonous gas (carbon monoxide). Stop, drop and roll if your clothes catch fire.
How to Operate a Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are categorized by the types of fire they put out:
A = ordinary combustibles (paper, wood, dry brush)
B = flammable liquids (oil, gasoline, solvents)
C = electrical equipment (appliances), plugged in or otherwise live
K = commercial cooking (deep fryers and cooking oils)
Multipurpose fire extinguishers rated to work for all three of the most common types of fires (A, B, and C) are commonly available and ideal for in-home use. In addition, you should select the size – typically, a 5-pound or 10-pound extinguisher – you can easily hold and maneuver.
Proper use of a fire extinguisher relies on the following four steps, which can be easily remembered with the PASS acronym:
PULL the pin
AIM at the base of the fire
SQUEEZE the handles together
SWEEP back and forth
What Not to Do
In the event of a fire, what you do – as well as what you don’t do – is critically important. The following are examples of what you should avoid doing when faced with fire:
- Don’t attempt to swat or fan a fire away. This increases the oxygen available to a fire, only making it bigger.
- Don’t use water on a grease fire or electrical fire. It will just spread the flames and may electrocute you if the fire is due to faulty wiring or a circuit overload.
- Don’t stand too close to the fire or reach over it. You risk burning yourself or your clothes catching fire.
- Don’t move an item on fire. You may be tempted to take a frying pan on fire off the stove and out of the house, but doing so increases the risk it will be dropped or grease droplets spilled, both of which can spread the fire.
- Don’t put flour on a grease fire. Flour is combustible and will make the fire worse.
- If using a fire extinguisher, don’t waste your time aiming at the middle or top of the flames. The only way to successfully put out the fire with a fire extinguisher is by targeting the baseof the flames.
House Fires Happen – Don’t Let It Destroy You or Your Home
When disaster strikes, make sure you know exactly what to do. It could save your life and your home. When it comes to house fires, knowing what not to do is equally important. At Edison Insurance Company, we’re here to make sure you, your loved ones, your home and all your treasured belongings are safe and sound.
Even when you do everything right, house fires can happen. Make sure you have the proper insurance in place to make starting over, if you must, as easy for you and your family as possible. Are you a current policyholder with us? If so, call your Edison Insurance Company agent now to ensure you’re covered in all the right ways. And if you’d like to become an Edison policyholder, you can get started with an online quote.