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What is the most common cause of residential fires?

Fire: What Everyone Needs To Know

Stacy Gerlich (Fire Captain & Paramedic) gives expert video advice on: What is the most common cause of residential fires?; Where do household fires most commonly originate?; What household appliances are most commonly involved in fires? and more...

What is the most common cause of residential fires?

Some of the most common causes of residential fires is smoking. Sometime people go to bed, watch TV, smoke a cigarette, fall asleep, and then the cigarette falls out of their mouth and onto the sheets, and we have a fire. They would be lucky if they survived that. If they have a smoke detector installed, then possibly they'll wake up and they'll be able to get out before the whole house or room is consumed in the fire.

What are the common causes of commercial fires?

With commercial fires, or high-rise fires, electrical issues are usually one of the biggest culprits of those types of fires and also, if there are kitchens in those types of buildings, that certainly contributes to leading causes of fires. But what we see most that causes commercial fires are electrical or if it's someone that's left something on in an office, a lighter of some sort and its too close to a combustible material.

When do household fires usually happen?

With household fires occurring in a time frame, you don't really have a given time of the day, but cooking is one of the biggest culprits in household fires and I think still statistically 70 percent of the fires is because of the electrical issues. So, it doesn't really fall into a category in terms of a specific time frame like morning, afternoon and evening. But one would have to factor in that most people are in home in the evening, as the family. So, we would se higher bit of incident at that time.

Where do household fires most commonly originate?

Where household fires occur is not really specific if we are talking about maybe a room of the house. Is it the bedroom versus the kitchen? Well it really depends on what the layout of the house is. And again, there's always different types of reasons for a fire. It could be because of cooking, so therefore it would obviously be in the kitchen. But there isn't really any one particular place. It really has to do with the dynamics going on at any one particular time.

What household appliances are most commonly involved in fires?

Coffee makers and toasters, electric ovens or toaster ovens, rather, are probably some of the more common causes of home fire. Again, a lot of it has to do with not just the appliance itself but oftentimes the age of the home. So, if your home was built between the 50's and the 70's the wiring is much older than newer construction. And so these are some of the things you'd have to take into consideration when assessing what appliances are most likely to cause a fire. If you think that that's an issue in your home - and one of the common denominators of determining that would be if you have fuses that blow more often than not, and you are looking at lights that dim when you turn on another appliance - this would be a really good time to make sure that you have an electrician possibly come out and check the system for you.

What month is the most dangerous for household fires?

December is the month where we see more household fires, and that's due to the fact that at Christmas or the holidays we have lights, inside and outside. We tend to be inside more because of the colder weather, depending on where you live, and we use appliances more often like space heaters and those types of things. So December still is the month where we see a higher rate of fire in the home.

How dangerous are Christmas trees during a fire?

Christmas Trees are really dangerous during a fire. People don't really realize how dry those trees become in a very short amount of time. It's the obvious thing, we go, we buy a Christmas tree, we have a little water bowl put on the bottom, we fill it up when we first stand it up, but a lot of people forget about checking that water level. And these Christmas Trees dry out really quick, and remember most people put lights on the Christmas tree, so there's an added factor to the fire danger. A Christmas Tree can go up in Twenty or thirty seconds easily, and then ignite the room. So if you leave the lights on, and you are not home, there's a real good chance that you are going to have a house fire.

What household materials are most combustible?

In the home, the most combustible materials would be your class A materials. This includes ordinary combustibles, such as paper, wood, plastic. You don´t tend to see a lot of flammable liquids in the home. That´s not to say that cleaning solutions and such are not flammable, but we don´t see as many and more commonly we have furniture which is combustible. We sit on it, we have mattresses that we sleep on, and all of these things are what we call ordinary combustible materials.

How many people are injured each year due to fire?

The latest statistic that I could come across as far as injuries due to fire right now is about 100,000 people a year. That runs a pretty good spectrum of injury. It could be anything from a first-degree burn to a third-degree burn. It just depends. But the numbers are running around is 100,000 people are injured each year due to fire.

How many people lose their lives each year due to fire?

Again it's all about statistics. The latest statistics are about 6,000 people a year die as a result of fire. And most of the time again we are talking about residential fire. We certainly have brush fire but most of the loss of life has to do with single family dwellings.

What is the number one cause of death from fire?

The number one cause of death from fire is the product of combustion or asphyxiation. Indeed ‘smoke inhalation' is probably the most common term that people would be able to identify with. Different materials give off different types of gases, and depending upon the environment, meaning how big the room that the fire is in is, and what other factors are in there, such as what other materials are in there. This is because as the fire grows and the heat intensifies, then all these different types of materials give off their own types of gases. So what we usually see as the number one cause of death from fire is asphyxiation or, simply put, smoke inhalation.

What is the most dangerous bi-product of fire?

As far as bi-products of fire go, we look at carbon monoxide poisoning as the most dangerous. It's colourless, tasteless, odourless, and we see this more often than we'd like to. Indeed what happens is that people that don't have forced air heating or a floor furnace, they'll bring in like a little hibachi or barbecue. And they'll light the charcoal briquettes and they'll let it burn all night so they have warmth. And primarily what happens is that these gases that form from the reaction from the fire in briquettes causes carbon monoxide and they asphyxiate while they are asleep. Most of the time they never knew obviously what happened. This happens quite often.

The age range of the people that are most at risk from fire related deaths are elderly patients, people from sixty-five and upwards, and then down to about five and below. And that's because often times, if we start with the younger group, they don't have the knowledge base, they don't have the experience and they don't understand the dangers of fire. Then on the upper end of that spectrum, the elderly patients often times are bed ridden, they're sick or they have home oxygen, and they refuse not to smoke. They don't understand that when you light up the cigarette, you have oxygen and you potentially have yourself a little fire bomb there. Therefore it's just a knowledge thing that make people most at risk from fire related death.

On average, how much property damage is caused by fire every year?

Property damage on an annual basis is up in the billions. It would be hard to put a figure on it, but definitely it's a lot higher than most people realize. And that has a lot to do with what goes on in the home, including your electrical appliances, you being very cognizant and paying attention to these things, and doing prevention. That's probably the biggest thing that people overlook. And the second thing is if you live in hillside areas or you live in areas where there's a lot of vegetation around your home, then you have to think about making sure you have a 100 to 200 foot clearance. These are things that are going to keep those numbers of how much property damage is caused by fire every year.

How quickly can a fire fully engulf a room?

It's a tremendous phenomenon. And we see that when we watch movies and so on, and we're in awe at how quickly a fire can spread. And sometimes I think we wonder if that really is in fact true. And it is! A fire can consume a room within a few minutes, indeed in 4 or 5 minutes that entire room can be just completely filled with either smoke and flames, or smoke, which is again a product of the combustion, or the fire itself and materials that are burning. But fire engulfing a room is fast.

What are some common myths about fire?

Some of the myths about fire are interesting. I think the most common one is it's not going to happen to me. Something that people don't really understand is that fires start small, they don't start large and I say that because in knowing that they start small means potentially we can prevent the fire from getting out of hand. And that brings us back to as we progress into this conversation, when we start talking about fire extinguishers and things that you should have on hand and how to prepare yourselves and how to learn how to use these things in the case of a fire.