Every day, hundreds of homes burn to the ground. We hear it on the news channel and read it on the newspapers. The report usually comes with what caused the fire, who got injured and how long it took for the firemen to subdue the flames. House fires and wildfires can cause a ton of damages including the loss of everything you’ve worked hard for and in worse case scenarios, the loss of a loved one.
Being aware of the possibility that it can happen to your home is the first step in being prepared for the worst that can happen. The next step is to make sure that you have the basic knowledge that will help you make your home a place where you can escape if a fire does break out.
IDENTIFYING FIRE HAZARDS IN YOUR HOME
For some people, the most important step in being prepared for a house fire is to install smoke alarms and detectors. However, the flaw in this plan is that not everyone can afford the necessary equipment. Thus, the first logical step that can apply to any kind of shelter, from houses to apartment complexes, is to identify the hazards that can spread the fire faster that you can escape. These hazards include:
- Bedsheets and pillow cases
- Flammable chemicals
Once you’ve identified that things that can easily catch on fire, place them at least three feet away from anything that generates heat including stoves, space heaters, fireplaces and outdoor grills. The farther the better. After identifying the hazards, some guidelines will have to be observed. This is to ensure that the fire will not start because of your own mistake.
- Never forget to turn off the gasoline after you’re done cooking. A simple spark can burn down the house because the gas is left open.
- Do not smoke on your bed. If the embers touch your sheets, a fire can start.
- Every time you leave the house, unplug your appliances to prevent accidental sparks. You will also have to unplug them when you experience brownouts and blackouts. Remember that a sudden surge of electricity can cause an explosion.
- Do not simply leave and wait for firewood and coal to die after use. It only takes the wind to start up the fire again and spread it.
- Talk to your children and family members about the dangers of lighting matches and using lighters inside your home.
While these guidelines may seem like common sense, not everyone in your house may not be aware of the horrors that fire can cause. It’s always better to be safe than sorry,
INVEST IN SMOKE DETECTORS AND ALARMS
The most dangerous thing about a house fire is the fact that it can happen in the dead of the night when everyone is asleep. Before you’re even aware of the peril you’re in, it might be too late. Thus, it would be wise to invest on smoke detectors and alarms. Include it in your budget when building your own house or make sure that it’s in your checklist when you’re looking to move into a new house.
Acquiring smoke detectors and alarms is not the last step in preparing for a house fire. It is a common mistake to assume that smoke detectors have a life-long battery and they become complacent. To remedy this, here are a few reminders and guidelines for smoke detectors and alarms.
- Make sure that there are smoke alarms on every level of your home. Having only one in your ground floor is not enough to ensure that it will go off the moment that a fire starts in the upper levels.
- Place a smoke detector in every bedroom, outside in the halls and every entryway.
- The batteries don’t last forever. Remember to check if it works every month. If it fails to work, replace the batteries as it should be changed every six months.
- Always have spare batteries so as to avoid putting off changing it.
- Most smoke detectors will have to be replaced every ten years. Check the replacement details of your smoke detectors with the manufacturer.
- Smoke detectors stop working if they accumulate debris. Do not put them in air ducts and make sure that you place them five to six inches away from the wall.
- Everyone in the house should be aware of how a smoke alarm sounds and what to do after so as to avoid panic.
- Don’t forget to put a smoke detector in your basement and in the attic.
If you have extra funds available, it would also be a great idea to invest in carbon monoxide alarms because this particular gas kills. Having a carbon monoxide alarm will help you find your way to a location with fresh air.
Another thing that you should have in your home is a fire extinguisher. Keep one within the immediate vicinity of fire prone areas such as the kitchen. Remember that you will have to exercise necessary caution to use it properly and prevent further damage. This means that at least one person in your household should know how to use one. There are conditions that should be met before using a fire extinguisher: the fire is not growing, the fire department has been alerted, the room is not smoke-filled and everyone has managed to escape the burning household. According to Red Cross, in using a fire extinguisher, always remember PASS:
- Pull the pin and hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you.
- Aim low and direct it to the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side not up and down.
MAKE A FIRE ESCAPE PLAN
There have been a significant number of fire-related deaths that is not caused by the fire itself. A lack of preparation and awareness caused some people to desperately jump out through the window and straight to their deaths. Knowing what to do in the event of a house fire or even a wildfire helps keep the panic at bay. Make a fire escape plan that is easy enough for the all the inhabitants of your house to follow. Here are a few guidelines for your evacuation plans:
- Know your statistics. Find out how prone your area is house fires and wildfires.
- Make a Plan A and Plan B. Not everything may go the way you want it to and making a backup could save more lives.
- Make sure that your fire escape plan has two exits from every room of your house. Falling structures may block one of those exits. Knowing where to exit in that event will prevent panic.
- Take into account the needs of every household member. If you have children or elderly, make sure that your fire escape plan covers what you will do to help them out of the burning house.
- If you live in a building or an apartment complex, know all the fire exits and the fire escape plans that the managers designated for each floor.
- Ensure that everyone in your home is aware of the plan.
- Do a fire drill at least twice a year to make sure that everyone knows what to do in case it happens. It will also help you devise better plans and find better routes.
- Include all the contact details of the nearest fire department and emergency hotlines in your escape plan so that at least one family member is guaranteed to reach out to them.
- Designate a meeting place. Make sure that it is far enough from the house to avoid casualties in case a blast happens.
- Know and be aware of the stop, drop and roll drill for when your clothes are burning.
- Keep your fire escape plan updated for every new circumstance (i.e., new family members or house extensions).
- Tune in with alerts and news to help guide you to where you need to go and what to do. Often the alerts will let you know of the direction of a wildfire which will keep give you ample time to evacuate.
MANAGE YOUR BACKYARD OR GARDEN
An unkempt backyard or garden can cause a lot of trouble during a house fire or a wildfire. When preparing for those circumstances, do not forget to include the outside of your house. It is a vital area as it is the goal of all your fire escape plans. Anything that can catch on fire within at least 20 meters of your house should be removed or cleaned. Here are the things you have to do in order to keep the outside of your house relatively safe from fire:
- Remove any overhead tree branches and leaves that covers the top of your house. You will have to cut them down to make sure that it adheres to the 20-meter distance.
- Mow your lawn every time you think the grass is too high. Preferably, you will have to do this at least twice a month.
- Pick up dried leaves and fallen branches as these things can quickly catch on fire. During the fall season, you will have to work twice as hard to keep your pathways and garden free of dried leaves and branches.
- If you’re into gardening, make sure that your plants are on a considerable distance away from the trees that are already there. Doing this will make sure that the fire will not spread quicker through a continuous line of vegetation.
- Make sure that there is a pathway that is free of grass, trees and any form of vegetation. This will function as a fireproof route to outside your house during house fires and wildfires.
- Clean your roof and gutters as those are where dried leaves and fallen branches gather. If left unkempt, it might cause your roof to burn faster than any area of the house. This will cause fatal blockages and your fire escape plan will fail.
- Do not leave chemicals outside. Store them in an enclosed shed.
- Check up on the electrical wires outside or hanging over your house. Do not leave an open wire. Call for assistance to fix it. An open wire can cause explosions which can endanger you and your family even when you managed to get to do your designated meeting place.
BUILD AN EMERGENCY KIT
House fires and wildfires can cause a severe loss of supplies which could endanger your well-being even if you managed to survive the disaster. A supplies kit will help tide you over for a few days or until things have settled and help has arrived. The most important thing to remember about your emergency kit is that it should contain enough supplies to help you last for at least 72 hours. Each person should have an emergency kit stacked in a bag that they can carry easily. Backpacks work great for this as it doesn’t get in the way like a duffel bag does. Here’s a quick checklist of the things your emergency kit should have:
- Non-perishable food like canned goods
- Bottled water
- A means for communication like a fully-charged cellphone
- Maximum of three sets of clothing (or pack according to how much your bag can carry)
- Radio to keep you informed and spare batteries
- First aid kit (bandages, gauze pads, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers, antiseptic, lubricant, thermometer, non-prescription drugs and cleansing agents)
- All your spare keys including the ones for your car and house
- Copies of important documents such as birth certificates and passports (make sure all the documents are in a waterproof or sealed bag such as a Ziploc, it would also be a good idea to store digital copies of your documents in a flash drive to save space)
- Special needs
- Map of the area specifying evacuation routes and emergency shelters
Store your emergency kit in a place that you can easily reach and grab. It can be under your bed or along your escape route. Constantly remind your family members to keep their bags within reach. Help your family members develop a reflex of grabbing the emergency kit through constant practice of your escape plan.
House fires and wildfires are always unexpected. Because of this, an unprepared household will face many difficulties and are prone to panicking. Studies have found that you will have a maximum of two minutes from when you become aware of the fire to get out of your home. After that, you will be exposed to smoke inhalation risks and your chances of survival goes down drastically.
Being prepared is the key to surviving such disasters.