A Practical Guide to Preventing Fires at Home



- Peak hours for house fires are around dinner time, between about 5pm and 8pm. Peak hours for house fire fatalities are between 11pm and 7am.

- Always have an established household fire drill that everyone can follow quickly and without further instruction, particularly if you’re woken by fire at night.

- In the event of a fire at home, victims can have as little as two minutes to evacuate the premises before becoming trapped. Ensure your escape plan allows everyone to exit the house in under two minutes, even from a sleeping position.

- As part of the drill, try to work out at least two possible ways out of every room in which there’s a fire risk.

- Always have an upstairs escape plan that doesn’t involve using the staircase. Open stairways in homes are often one of the first places to become engulfed in flames, smoke and toxic gases, acting as a chimney for fires on the ground floor. (That’s why they’re usually sealed off in public buildings or offices.)

- Key to any household fire drill is having an established outdoor rendezvous point a safe distance from the house. This enables you to tell very quickly who’s safe, and who’s yet to be accounted for.

- Practice your household fire drill twice a year; this is especially important if you have children in the house.

- If a fire occurs at home, always remember these three rules above all else:
  • STAY OUT (never go back inside for anything, or anyone)

- If your home has security bars fitted to windows or doors, make sure they have a quick-release mechanism on at least one exit in each room, to prevent anyone from becoming trapped in the house during a fire.

- Small, unobtrusive escape ladders can be purchased for upstairs rooms that can be rolled up and stored near windows.


- The importance of smoke alarms cannot be overstated: if there’s a fire in your home, fire alarms cut your chances of being killed by half.

- Smoke alarms don’t just detect smoke; they can pick up on other abnormal airborne combustion gasses often invisible to the naked eye, including emissions from both blazing and smouldering fires.

- Install a suitable number of smoke alarms (see Fire Safety Equipment, below). Ensure that all members of the family, especially children, are familiar with what they sound like.


- Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that’s highly toxic to humans and animals: it can be lethal even at low concentrations.

- In many nations, CO is the leading cause of fatal air poisoning. Poisoning can occur due to rapid exposure to larger amounts of CO, or by longer exposures to lesser amounts.

- CO is released when certain types of common fuels burn incompletely and smoulder. Frequent culprits include:
  • Gasoline
  • Wood
  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Propane
  • Oil
  • Methane

- CO combines with haemoglobin in the blood to decrease the levels of oxygen being carried to major organs, resulting in seizure, coma and eventually death.

- Deaths from carbon monoxide are more common at night, when sleepers don’t detect or recognize the initial exposure symptoms:
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

- These symptoms are also often misdiagnosed as flu by unaware homeowners, who then often go to bed as a result.

- In helping to prevent CO poisoning, it’s vitally important never to use a generator, grill, camping stove or other fuel-burning device (including charcoal barbecues) inside homes, garages, basements, tents, or any other partially enclosed area.

- See Fire Safety Equipment, below.




- Anything that gets hot needs plenty of space around it; a good rule of thumb is to leave ‘three feet from the heat’ between warm items and anything else that could feasibly catch fire, including:
  • Furniture
  • Skirting and baseboards
  • Curtains
  • Towels and dishcloths
  • Clothes
  • Ornaments
  • Electrical components and wiring
  • Pets

- Reduce the risk of electrical fires by always plugging appliances directly into wall sockets, avoiding multiple plug extensions where possible.

- Check your home wiring regularly and replace and old or frayed cables.

- Any rags that have been used to apply flammable paints, chemicals or other coatings should be disposed of properly. If they’re being kept, they should be stored in an airtight metal container with properly fitted lids.

- Never smoke in bed, always use deep and sturdy ashtrays, and extinguish all cigarettes and cigars fully with water before disposing of them in a littler bin.


- Again, keep at least a three-foot perimeter around space heaters, stoves and fireplaces. Ensure this area is free from all paper, clothing, bedding, carpets etc.

- Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Space heaters must be switched off when leaving the room or home, and fires must be properly extinguished with no embers left behind.

- Space heaters should only be used on a level, hard surface that isn’t combustible. Ensure that children and pets cannot approach the heater when you’re not looking.

- Try to buy heaters with an automatic shut-off function in the event of them tipping or falling over.


- Candles are a particularly common cause of blazes: people leaving candles too close to other items account for close to half of fire department callouts to homes.

- 35% of candle fires start in bedrooms, and 10% of those occur when people have fallen asleep. Never leave candles unattended (even for a minute) or burning while you sleep; if you’re tired, avoid using them in the bedroom altogether.

- December is by far the busiest month for candle fires. Take extra care during the holiday season to ensure any candles being used are kept well away from ground level, out of reach of children and accidental knocks.

- Pay particular attention to keeping Christmas trees Place Christmas trees and other decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like candles, open or gas fires, portable heaters, radiators and heat vents.

- Always keep candles on a sturdy base or holder, ideally with some form of heatproof container below, and well away from any fabrics, paper or other combustible materials (including for several feet above the flame).


- Cooking is by far the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries. A fire is considerably more likely to occur in the kitchen than anywhere else in the house (bedrooms are the second most likely).

- Over 90% of kitchen fires are caused by unattended cooking. Never leave cooking unattended when using grills, frying pans, or any methods involving an open flame, even on a ‘low’ heat or simmer.

- If you must leave the kitchen for any reason, turn off the hob or grill completely.

- Even if you’re baking or roasting in an electric oven, never leave the house and check on the food regularly.

- Keep surfaces around the oven or cooking area free from cloths, towels, oven gloves, tissues, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging and curtains.

- Clean the oven and the area around and above it regularly to prevent significant grease build-up, which can ignite if it gets hot enough.

- Avoid wearing loose, draped or baggy-sleeved clothing when cooking.

- Don’t let children within three feet of an oven or cooking area when in operation.

- Check the kitchen nightly before going to bed, to ensure that all hobs and appliances are turned off.


- Washing machines and dryers are frequent culprits, with dryers accounting for a considerable number of fire department callouts every year.

- Failure to clean equipment is the leading cause of dryer fires, particularly in lint traps. Either lint or the clothes being dried are usually the first thing to ignite in dryers.

- Medical oxygen is a fire risk:
  • Increased oxygen concentration in the air causes fires to burn hotter and longer
  • It also allows combustible items (including clothes, hair and skin oils) to ignite at much lower temperatures
  • Never smoke, burn stoves or use candles around medical oxygen



- It’s always worth keeping at least one working fire extinguisher at home. ‘A-B-C’-rated extinguishers are the type generally recommended for household use.

- Extinguishers should be mounted high on walls wherever possible, and always near an exit and away from heat sources. Heat exposure can cause extinguishers to lose their charge over time.

- Check the charge on your extinguisher every month, when you test your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Most models have a pressure gauge to indicate whether there is sufficient charge to operate properly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to recharge (although be aware that many household models are single use, and must be replaced).

- Get training on how to use your extinguisher properly: the fire department often runs quick advice courses or demonstrations, and the manufacturer will also have instructional literature on proper use. Contact them for more information.

- Remember, it’s not much safer having a fire extinguisher if you don’t know how to use it BEFORE a fire occurs. Many brands and models operate differently, and you won’t have time to read instructions in an emergency.

- In most cases, you’ll need to remember the PASS order of operation:
Pull out the pin, point the nozzle away from you
Aim at the base of the fire
Squeeze the trigger slowly with even pressure
Sweep the nozzle left and right, spraying in a gentle side-to-side motion

- Always stay at least six feet from the flames when using an extinguisher, as you don’t want to ‘push’ the fire around to other areas.

- Make sure to keep your escape route directly behind you when aiming at the fire.

- If the extinguisher does not have an immediate effect on the blaze, drop it and leave. Many smaller extinguishers only have around 8 seconds of active charge, so don’t hang around for a second go.

- Only ever use an extinguisher to fight a fire once ALL of the following are confirmed:
  • Everyone else is safely out of the house
  • The emergency services have been called
  • The fire is small, contained and not spreading or growing
  • There is not much smoke in the room
  • You have a clear exit route behind you


According to the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72), the rules governing smoke alarms and alarm installation are as follows:
  • Newly built homes must now have hard-wired, interconnected (if one sounds, they all do) smoke alarms with battery backups on every level of the building, outside each sleeping area, and inside each bedroom
  • Existing homes should install alarms on every level of the building, and outside each sleeping area
  • Use the silencer button when experiencing false alarms caused by cooking or showering; never disconnect them
  • Cut down on the number of false alarms by running the vacuum cleaner around them once a week to clean out cobwebs and dust build-up
  • If alarms persistently go off without fire present, consider looking for a different model or moving them to a more suitable location
  • Don’t test them by igniting matches, paper or cigarettes nearby; most reputable manufacturers include a test button that you should use to check them once a month
  • Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once per year – pick a date that’s easy to remember for doing basic household maintenance tasks of this kind
  • If your alarms chirp to indicate a low battery more frequently than once a year, change the schedule to replace them whenever the clocks go back/forward
  • Smoke alarms become less sensitive over time. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that they be replaced every ten years


- Like smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms should be installed centrally on every level of the home, as well as outside sleeping areas. Test them monthly, as you should with your smoke alarms.

- Avoid placing them in the corners of rooms, and other places where air doesn’t circulate effectively.

- If a CO alarm sounds at home, the best policy is to immediately move to a fresh air location away from the building, or failing that to stand by an open window/door.

- If you experience any symptoms that lead you to suspect CO poisoning, it’s important to get to fresh air immediately and contact the emergency services.

- If an alarm sounds but you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, try resetting it. If it continues to sound, you need to contact the fire department.




- Children under the age of five are twice as likely to die in a home fire than the rest of the population.

- Fires caused during play are the leading cause of fire deaths among the under-fives.

- Most fires started accidentally by children originate in bedrooms, and bedding is usually the first thing to ignite.

- The leading causes of fires that break out during children’s play are:
  • Matches
  • Lighters
  • Candles
  • Fireworks
  • Stoves
  • Cigarettes

- Ensure children are well educated in the importance of not playing with matches and lighters. These items should always be kept locked in high-up cupboards and other locations inaccessible to kids.


- Make sure everyone in the house is familiar with the sound of the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

- Make sure everyone in the house is familiar with the fire evacuation drill, including where to assemble outside.

- Make sure everyone in the house who’s old enough to operate a fire extinguisher knows where it is, and has been shown how to use it properly.


- Different extinguishers are for use on different types and causes of fire. It’s important to know which is used for what.

- There are three basic classes of house fire:
  • Class A: Solid combustibles that are not metals, like wood, paper, cloth, plastics, rubber
  • Class B: Flammable liquids like gasoline, oil, grease, and paints
  • Class C: Electrical equipment, like appliances and outlets
- The basic types of extinguisher are as follows:
  • Air-pressurised water (APW): for use on Class A fires only, and never for use on Class B or C fires. These are usually around two feet tall with a pressure gauge on them
  • Foam: for use on Class A or Class B fires, but not recommended for Class C. Foam extinguishers vary in size but are usually marked with a blue band
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2): for use on Class B and Class C fires, but largely ineffective on Class A. These types don’t have a pressure gauge.
  • Dry chemical (DC): These are usually marked either ‘ABC’ or ‘BC’ to indicate their best use. They also have a pressure gauge and vary considerably in size. Most household fire extinguishers are of this kind, and marked ‘ABC’.


- On discovering a fire, the best way to alert others is to shout ‘FIRE’ several times as loudly as you can, and then immediately head outside.

- Leave the area as quickly as possible, and don’t stop to take anything with you. Every second counts.

- Test doorknobs and never open a door that feels warm to the back of your hand, particularly if you suspect a fire has broken out on the other side. Opening doors during fires can feed the flames with a sudden burst of oxygen, and increase the blaze intensity considerably.

- If a door that feels warm to the touch is blocking your escape route during a fire, the best policy is always to stay where you are and block the door gaps with a damp towel. Wave something bright, or a flashlight at night if possible, from an open window and call for help instead.

- When moving through a building to escape a fire, stay low to the ground (crawl wherever possible) to avoid inhaling smoke. Stick to the established escape plan and head for the agreed meeting area, where you should immediately call the emergency services.

- Again, once you’ve made it outside, NEVER go back into a burning building for ANY reason until you’ve been told by the emergency services that it’s safe to do so.

- If your clothes catch fire, never run around as this will just fuel the blaze. Remember the STOP, DROP and ROLL method:
  • STOP whatever you’re doing
  • DROP to the ground and cover your face if you can
  • ROLL over and over on your front and back as much as possible to extinguish the flames
- Never use a lift in the event of a fire
  • lift shafts can funnel toxic gasses and flame
  • lift mechanisms frequently fail or shut down when alarms systems are triggered, which may trap you without warning