The Top 3 Causes of House Fires

November 2, 2022 by Kemper

The National Fire Protection Association estimates there were 338,000 home fires in the United States in 2021.  

The good news is most home and house fires are preventable. Provided below are the top three causes of fires in the home and how you can prevent them.

In addition to the tips below, always remember to test your smoke alarms monthly, change the batteries twice annually, and replace the alarm every 8-10 years.

Why do houses catch on fire?

#1: Cooking

Between 2011 and 2020, the U.S. Fire Administration found that cooking accounted for more home fires than all other fire sources combined.  

Frying was the most frequent culprit for cooking fires, especially frying over an open flame like a gas stove. Leaving food cooking  unattended was another top cause. 

Here are some tips to help you stay safe while cooking:

  • Never leave the kitchen while cooking. If you must leave the kitchen, turn off the stove!
  • Keep children away from the stove by enforcing a three-foot rule.
  • Regularly check on baking or roasting food. Set a timer as a reminder.
  • Remember to turn off the oven when you're finished cooking.
  • Keep anything flammable off the stove, such as oven mitts or wooden utensils.
  • If a fire starts in a pan, turn off the burner and cover it with a lid. Never try to put out a stovetop fire with water or a fire extinguisher.
  • If a fire starts in the oven, turn off oven and shut the door.

#2: Heating

House fires often increase in the winter due to accidents involving heating, such as space heaters, fireplaces, and improperly maintained chimneys or furnaces.

Here are a few tips for safe heating.

  • Keep anything flammable at least 3 feet from heat sources, such as the fireplace, furnace or space heaters. 
  • Always turn space heaters off when leaving the room. 
  • Make sure your space heater has an auto shutoff feature in case it tips over accidentally.
  • Never use the oven as a heat source.
  • Hire a qualified professional to inspect all heating equipment and chimneys every year before regularly using them.
  • If you have a fireplace, install a screen or door to keep sparks from flying out of the fireplace. Wait until the ashes are completely cooled before removing and properly disposing of them.

#3 Electrical

Electrical fires often start from overloaded outlets or a do-it-yourself project (DIY) gone wrong. Holiday lights are another common source for an electrical fire, especially when combined with a dried-out tree.

Keep an eye on your electric with these helpful tips:

  • Have all wiring and electrical work done by a qualified electrician rather than trying to do it yourself.
  • Don’t overload receptacles with multi-plug adapters. They have two plugs for a reason! 
  • Never plug a major appliance such as a refrigerator or microwave into an extension cord. These appliances should always be connected directly to a wall outlet. Same goes for space heaters!
  • Does your circuit breaker trip frequently? Do your outlets spark or get hot? Don’t ignore these warning signs! Call an electrician (or your landlord) to inspect the wiring and receptacles. 
  • Check extension cords and holiday lights for frayed wires and loose connections before plugging in.
  • Turn off holiday lights, especially on live Christmas trees, before leaving the room.

Other common reasons for house fires include candles, appliances like the clothes dryer, and smoking. 

Fire safety wrap-up:

While your homeowners or renters insurance policy may cover your belongings in the event of a fire—it’s not worth the risk. 

Discuss home fire safety with all members of your household, create an escape plan, practice realistic fire drills, and teach everyone to spot these common fire hazards.

Remember that home fires are preventable and it’s everyone’s job to help keep their home safe.

 

References:

Fire Loss in the United States During 2021, National Fire Protection Association Report, September 2022

US Fire Administration, Residential Building Fire Causes (2011‑2020)