Firefighters are urging homeowners this fire season to stop procrastinating on their spring cleaning, or they could be at greater risk. Fire prevention, after all, begins with a good declutter and a plan.
“Anytime there are excess combustibles, like boxes, wood, old (patio) umbrellas and tables in a home, attic or garage, those add to the rapid growth of fires and the damage they cause,” said Capt. Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority in Southern California.
It may be tempting to let a home collect clutter, especially by setting aside unused space for storage. However, if the attic is filled with family heirlooms, the garage is hosting an array of unfinished projects or the side yard is a graveyard of old patio furniture, the excess could be dangerous. It could someday add fuel to a fire, block an exit or impede firefighter access.
When homeowners and renters remove their stuff and organize they are practicing good fire protection against financial loss, injury, or worse.
In California, where Concialdi works, more than 6,000 acres have already burned in wildfires this year, in some case endangering homes and residents. In addition, about 2,500 people die annually from house fires and an estimated $73 billion in damages are caused by the flames, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Tips for Clearing Areas for Good Home Fire Safety
Cook with Caution to Avoid Kitchen Fires
Hundreds of cooking fires damage homes every year and are one of the top causes of house fires, according to State Farm Insurance. Keep all flammable items, such as towels and oven mitts, away from open flames and always have a fire extinguisher nearby. Once you start the stovetop, stay near it and do not leave the kitchen when the burners are on.
Check the Chimney So Embers Don’t Spread
All chimneys should be inspected and cleaned at least once and year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. It’s also recommended to cover a chimney opening with a spark arrestor, or metal screen, which will block any floating embers from entering from above. It will also help prevent them from getting in if a fire is outside.
Do Not Leave Candles Unattended
You may be trying to set the mood, but always remember to stay in the room where you started a candle. All candles should be placed in candle holders and extinguished before leaving the room. Although the flame is small, it can become mighty.
Clean Leaves from Eaves and Rain Gutters Regularly
While it may seem odd to pull out the rake after autumn, any excess dried plants on balconies, decks, lawns and especially in rain gutters and eaves pose fire risks. If nearby embers fall onto the rubbish, they’re likely to become kindle in no time. All dead vegetation should be removed if it is within 100 feet of the house.
Keep Metal out of the Microwave to Avoid Kitchen Fires
It’s important to always plug the microwave directly into the wall and make sure it does not share a plug with any other heating appliances. Do not try to cook any metal, because sparks will fly. If you forget, you would not be the first. Make sure to keep the door closed if a fire starts inside, and unplug the machine. Hopefully the fire will go out, if not, call 911.
Consider Replacing Plants with Less-Flammable Options
Some foliage is more flammable than others. Firefighters recommend the removal of trees such as cypress, eucalyptus, juniper, pine and palms. Perhaps consider replacing them with oak, alder, carob or citrus trees, which smolder longer before developing into shorter flames.
When the Time Changes, Replace Your Smoke Alarm Batteries
Three out of five deadly home fires happen in rooms without working smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Safety Association. Officials recommend that all smoke alarms get checked when clocks are changed twice a year, a good way to remember.
Avoid Starting a Fire in the Dryer
Failing to clean out the lint trap is the leading cause of home dryer fires and is preventable. Every time a new load of clothes goes in, make sure all the lint comes out.
Replace Wooden Fences with Fire-Resistant Materials in Wildfire Zones
Wood fencing or walls around homes can easily ignite if a fire starts in your neighborhood. The fence isn’t keeping the danger out, as designed, but bringing it closer to home. By replacing traditional wooden barriers with ignition-resistant wood or metal, and building at least 10 feet away from the structure, the danger is reduced.
Store Stuff Away from Home to Avoid Fueling Fires
Sometimes a home or garage is not big enough to store all beloved belongings. But excess stuff inside or around the home increases danger by feeding the flames or making it harder to get out. “We recommend homeowners either throw away anything they can’t use or use a storage facility away from their homes,.” Concialdi said. The cost of an off-site storage unit will always be cheaper than repairing and replacing items after a fire.
For more in-depth look at fire safety, visit the Orange County Fire Authority website for videos and tips.