18th Nov 2022 -

Domestic fires are one of the greatest risks we face in our homes. They are quick to start, even faster to spread, and can rip apart your life in a matter of minutes. And while that sounds scary, there are ways you can protect yourself and learn about fire and electrical safety at home.

This guide will look to assess what you can do to prevent a fire from starting, how to check your electrical appliances for potential threats, and even what steps to take in the unlikely event a fire does break out. While it is not advised to panic about the potential threat of a fire, it would also not be wise to ignore the possibility altogether. We will discover how you can keep your home, friends and family safe from a blaze.

Domestic fire statistics

Colourful graphs and charts with a blue pen.

Much like most domestic disasters, a fire does not discriminate. Everyone runs the risk of falling victim to the unstoppable destructive force of flames rampaging through their home. Here are some telling statistics about the potential dangers of a house fire.

Domestic fire statistics and rates 

According to government statistics, there were 27,019 dwelling fires in England for the year ending June 2021, a 5% decrease for the year ending 2020 (28,421). While that falls well short of the highest on record (71,082, recorded in 2000), it nevertheless highlights the severity and regularity of dwelling fires. The same report showed there were 193 fatalities in the year ending June 2021, a 4% increase from the previous year (186).

Again though, this is well below the highest recorded number (this time from 1986) when as many as 967 fire-related casualties occurred. It is not always immediately obvious that something could be a fire hazard. While things like cigarettes, matches and candles are all clearly items which need to be monitored, there are a number of potentially silent killers.

According to further government research, the most common causes of domestic fires in the UK are cooking appliances (48.3%), other electrical appliances (12.8%), electrical distribution (11.9%), and smoking materials (7%). In truth, everything on this list is somewhat preventable, but the trick is knowing what to look for. We will assess what you need to be vigilant about later on in this guide. 

How quickly do fires spread?

Research from the American Red Cross has found that home fires most commonly occur in colder months. December is the chief offender, between the hours of 6-7pm, and fire will ravage a home incredibly quickly. In less than five minutes, an average-sized house could be totally up in flames. But how does the fire spread so rapidly through a home?

One minute

The first minute of a blaze is when its spread is most preventable. Understandably, this is a short window, which means if you miss it you have very little chance of bringing it to a stop on your own. Within this time the fire will have the chance to begin spreading to nearby flammable objects. The room will also begin to fill with thick, heavy smoke.

Two minutes

At this point the temperature in the room will rise dramatically, causing the smoke which has accumulated to descend. This smoke travels through the house to other rooms - this is also when a fire alarm should come into play. The spreading of the smoke will set the alarm off, giving residents a couple of minutes to safely evacuate the home. 

Three minutes

The entire downstairs of a home is likely to be filled with smoke. The flames will also have spread to the majority of rooms in the area. 

Four minutes

The room where the fire started will now be reaching highs of as much as 750 degrees Celsius. Almost everything in the room will be on fire. The rate at which the fire spreads is the main reason why you should immediately evacuate your home. While it can be tempting to search for precious items, it is important to remember they are not more valuable than your life. 

Electrical safety in the home

As we have discussed, electrical products are the chief cause of fires in homes. These appliances (such as ovens, washing machines and chargers) are often things we cannot afford to live without. That is what makes it all the more important to constantly check your products for signs of damage.

A plug and socket on fire and burnt with fire damage.

Common causes of electrical fires at home

As we’ve seen, the bulk of fires caused in the home comes as a result of a fault with an electrical appliance. White goods are often one of the main causes, as well as any items which you’re plugging directly into a charging point or wall socket. 

Some of the most common causes of a dwelling fire include:

Faulty outlets and appliances

This is the top offender when it comes to a fire in a home. The older an appliance is, the higher the likelihood of it malfunctioning and potentially causing damage. One mistake people often make is running an electrical cord over or under a rug. Placing it near a flammable substance like this is a guaranteed way to increase the chances of a fire starting (and spreading quickly).

Light fixtures

If you install a bulb with a wattage that is too high for a lamp, there is a good chance it could malfunction and catch alight. At the same time, also be wary of what you are placing on top of the lights. Paper or clothing of any kind should not sit on what is an incredibly hot surface.


If the wiring becomes faulty, it is a huge health risk. A lot of older homes were not set up to accommodate the influx of modern technology. That means they are less capable of handling the excess electricity generated by these modern devices.

Portable heaters

Because of the ease with which these are moved, a lot of people tend to place them near beds or curtains. This is a huge risk, particularly if they are coil radiators, with exposed heating devices. These are incredibly hot and could cause something to catch alight in a matter of seconds. Keeping your devices away from flammable surfaces is the key to lowering the chances of an incident.

Knowing what to look for in your electrical devices

Spotting a problem before it occurs could be a genuine lifesaver. But knowing what to look for is not something most people will naturally be familiar with. Here are some red flags when it comes to the electronics in your home. If you spot any of these, consider replacing the unit in question. 

Plugs and sockets

If you notice any black scorch marks, you need to immediately replace the device. Also, be sure that fittings are securely fastened. This guarantees that no unwanted material will get inside and cause a fault.

Cables and leads

What do the outer coverings of your power leads look like? If they appear to be losing quality in any way, be sure to have them replaced. Also, as a more practical step, make sure they are not positioned anywhere which could be a trip hazard. Pulling a cable out can also cause a fire.


Make sure you only ever use a charger which is distributed by a licensed vendor. Fake chargers might be appealing because of their price, but they have a tendency to easily break – which can have disastrous consequences.

Electrical appliances

Do any of your electrics seem damp? A leak in your plumbing could cause major issues. Similarly, leaving something like a flower pot too close nearby might also create a problem if it spills. Again, it is worth looking out for any scorch or burn marks on your appliances. Or just any wires which appear to be coming loose or have rusted.


With fuses, the key is again to ensure they are not taking on more than they can handle. Be sure to always check the manual to find out what kind of wattage is permitted for your fuse. Be sure to regularly check your appliances - it is one of the easiest ways to prevent a fire.

Electrical device safety advice 

As well as making sure your appliances are in functional order, there are also a series of other techniques you could employ to considerably lower the risk of a dwelling fire. Here are some of the most effective.

Fit your fusebox with an RCD

A residual current device is considered one of the greatest lifesavers a home can have. It will automatically turn off all electricity in your house if and when a fault is detected. There is also the option to buy plug-in versions for individual sockets.

Think about combustible materials

As we have already alluded to, it is crucial not to place any combustible materials on or near a hot surface which could result in them catching fire. That means stuff like clothes, paper of any variety, or cleaning materials.

Get a registered electrician to check your home

If you want total peace of mind, it is wise to ask a qualified professional to come and check out your home. They will have a strong understanding of safety levels and can assess whether any changes to wiring need to be made.

Let products cool down after use

This one is less obvious. However, items like hairdryers and straighteners get incredibly hot when used. Make sure they have completely cooled down before you store them away. If you can, try to keep them in heat-proof pouches.

Do not let things run when you are out or asleep

Allowing something like a washing machine or tumble dryer to run while you are not aware of it has the potential to be deadly. If something goes wrong, you will not be able to react accordingly. Always be present when using devices like this. 

The best way to lower the risk of an electrically-triggered fire in your home is by staying on top of your devices and their output. Regularly check them using the advice we have given, and look for anything which does not seem right. Ultimately, if you are not sure about the condition of any of your electrics, turn to a trained professional who will be able to make a fair and balanced assessment.

Fire safety prevention advice

Top of a fire extinguisher with a black handle.

While electrical hazards are the primary cause of a fire, it would be wrong to overlook other potential issues. Let us now look at what type of equipment you should have in your home, as well as what you can do to stop a fire from starting across different rooms of your house.

Fire safety equipment

Having certain items around your home which are designed to prevent the start (or stop the spread) of a fire can make a huge difference. Here are some of the most important items you can have in a home to battle a potential blaze.

Smoke alarms

These are something that most homes should have at least one of. Ideally, you will actually want to have a fire alarm situated on every floor of your house. They function fairly simply – reacting with a high-pitched beeping as soon as they detect excess levels of smoke. The best place to put your alarm is wherever you think its sound will carry farthest. That usually means in a hallway or on a landing. Placing them in a specific room could make them harder to hear, especially if you only have one.

Fire blankets

Compared to smoke alarms, these are a lot less common in a domestic home. Nevertheless, a fire blanket can make a huge difference in the first few minutes of a blaze. They are made of lightweight strips of fire-resistant material and are used to smother a fire – cutting off their supply of oxygen so they burn out more quickly. In the unlikely event that someone is on fire, the blanket can also be wrapped around them to put out the flames. In terms of storage, these are usually kept in kitchens. 

Fire extinguishers

These (often red) metal cylinders contain foam (or sometimes carbon dioxide), which when released extinguishes a fire immediately – assuming it is still relatively small. They are relatively easy to use, but be sure to read the instructions printed on yours. You will need to point it at the base of the fire for the best effect. Ideally, it is best to keep these stored in the visible spots of a hallway. That way they are easy to access whenever they are needed. While some of these might not seem like necessary items, they will make a huge difference in the event of a fire.

Fire safety during big events or gatherings

One of the most heightened times of risk for domestic dwellings is when large groups gather in a house. These are usually happy occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings or the whole Christmas season, so it is easy to overlook safety standards. It is not uncommon for a number of additional risks to come into play during these periods. 


They are great fun, but when you gather a mass of people in one place, the chances of an accident happening are unfortunately heightened. Make sure there are enough ashtrays littered around the house for those who smoke and try to clean these out every couple of hours so they do not become too full. It would also be wise to point out anything in your house which might be unfamiliar to them (for example, a custom light switch which operates a certain way).

Breaking appliances like this could be expensive for you, and might also be a fire hazard. Lastly, in the event of a fire, be sure to let everyone know how they can exit the house quickly. This might sound like an awkward conversation to have, so just point out where the backdoor is at the start of the night (or maybe even put signs up).

Christmas lights

Light Christmas lights on a green tree.

These rarely used items have a long shelf life, but that might sometimes lull us into a false sense of security. Every year, make sure they are still operational and that no bulbs have blown. If one has, replace it. Much like with other electrical appliances, it is important you neither leave them on unattended nor place them anywhere near flammable material. That means paper decorations which can easily catch fire. Also, be sure the fuse in the plug is the right size. You can find out what size fuse you’ll need by looking at the box in which the lights came in.


These are something that usually only come out at certain times of the year. Try to only buy ones which are non-flammable. Tinsel is usually fine, but you will need to check what the label says. Avoid paper decorations at all costs. While they look nice and are cheap, they are a major fire hazard in any home. You may want to use Christmas cards to decorate a home also. This is fine but keep them far away from any lights, heaters or other sources of electrical energy.


As many as 22 house fires are reported each day as a result of candles. As these are year-round decorative elements, and function using an open flame, they are one of the main offenders. There are a number of steps you need to take when lighting a candle at home. Some of the most important include:

  • Keep candles away from where a pet or child could reach them.
  • Make sure a candle is not positioned near a draught, where it could be blown over.
  • Do not play with matches near the candle.
  • Make sure the candle is standing upright and firmly lodged in place.
  • Candles should always be placed on top of a heat-resistant surface.
  • Put a candle out before you move it anywhere.
  • Leave a gap of 10cm (at least four inches) between each candle you are burning.


These are not as common an occurrence as some of the other things we have covered – but they are arguably the most dangerous on the list. Here are some snippets of advice for you to consider when operating them:

  • Do not drink alcohol when you are setting off fireworks.
  • Light a firework at arm's length, using the taper attached.
  • Never set off any kind of fireworks in or near the house.
  • Do not carry a firework in your pocket.
  • Do not give sparklers to kids under the age of five.
  • If you are lighting a bonfire, make sure to stand well clear of the flames.

It is the sporadic and inconsistent nature of seasonal and celebratory events which makes them such a danger. Remember to stay vigilant during events like this.

Tips for preventing the chances of a domestic fire

If you are still worried about the chances of a dwelling fire starting, make sure to follow some of these handy top-level tips for preventing one.

Kitchen care

There are several potential hazards in a kitchen. The key is to make sure you are always monitoring any open flames or heated appliances. Do not leave a hob unattended at any point. Also, consider keeping things like toasters and microwaves as clean as possible. These sometimes can become clogged or dirty as a result of food wastage. It is not uncommon in these instances for them to malfunction.

Keep firelighters out of reach

Anything like matches or lighters need to be kept well away from children. Place them on the highest shelf possible if need be.

Drinking and fire

While it is sometimes hard to make rational decisions after you have been drinking, try to avoid using candles, matches or heat-generating electrical devices when intoxicated. The same applies to when you feel particularly fatigued.

Leaving TVs on standby

It is tempting to do, as it saves you a little time later down the line. However, leaving a television set on standby while you are asleep, or even just not in the room, can be a fire hazard. Unless you are popping out for less than five or 10 minutes, always try to turn the TV off at the mains. Vigilance and due care is the best way to prevent a fire. Whether that is checking your electrics regularly, or taking your steps to prevent a disaster.

What to do in case of a fire

A kitchen burned down from a fire with fire damage.

Even if you take every step possible, an unfortunate set of circumstances could still result in a fire breaking out. If that is the case, it is important to have a plan in place to make sure everyone gets out of the house as safely as possible.

Escaping from a fire in the home

The most important thing if a fire does break out is to make sure you and everyone in the house manage to get out safely. Here are some of the most important things to remember when escaping from home:

Escape plan: It is crucial to have an escape plan in place. Understandably, this might not be something you have thought about before. As such, it could be hard to know where to start. 

Discuss: Sit down with everyone in the house and decide where the best routes are. Talk through your thoughts, and listen to theirs. After all, this is a plan which will need to work for everyone.

Choose a route: Conclude on a route and practise it. Make sure to approach the situation as if you were really in a fire, as it is the only way to know if it will work.

Information: Make sure everyone in the house has full access to the plan. Kids need to know too, or else they might panic during a crisis scenario. Also, let them know where you keep the keys. It is worth leaving a reminder of your plan somewhere clearly visible. You could even have regular chats about the plan, in case anyone has thought of any updates which might help. 

How to escape safely

There is a good chance your house will be filled with smoke unless you have managed to escape within the first minute of the fire. As such, you must crawl along the floor as low as possible to avoid inhaling any fumes. These can cause you to pass out, leaving you trapped within the building. 

Raising the alarm

Make sure to yell as loudly as possible if you’re the first to spot a fire. This is especially important if the fire alarm is not going off. Start banging on doors, but try not to linger too long. We’ve already seen how quickly a blaze can spread.

What to do if your clothes catch fire

If your clothes catch alight because of the extreme levels of heat, you need to stop, drop and roll. That means drop to the ground, and roll from side to side until your clothing is put out. You could also use the fire blanket we mentioned earlier if it is within reach.

If your route is blocked

If you notice there is no way out of a building, retreat to the safest room possible. Place as many mattresses as possible in front of the doors to ensure no smoke can enter. Call the emergency services and alert them of your exact position.

Children’s fire safety

Even if you are very careful when it comes to fire safety, having a child means you will have also to educate them. Children are not as aware of the dangers something like a match or open flame possesses. Here are some of the most important things to consider when teaching your kids about a fire:

Teach fire safety rules

There are loads of rules for handling or being around a fire. We have covered a lot of them throughout this resource already. Make sure your kids know some of the most important.

  • Never play with a lit candle or match.
  • Do not leave toys on or near a heater.
  • Do not turn the oven or hob on.
  • Do not put anything on top of the lamps.
  • If you see a fire, tell a grown-up straight away.

If you want, you could even turn it into a remembering game. Have cue cards which prompt them to list backfire safety rules.

Making your home safe

Even if they know the rules, it’s still important to do everything you can to set your home up in a way which lowers the chances of them accidentally starting a fire. That means taking precautions such as:

  • Keeping any objects (matches, candles) well out of the reach of young kids.
  • Put a childproof fireguard in front of any open fires or heaters.
  • Keep portable heaters in a safe place, where they cannot be knocked over.
  • Put plug guards in front of all sockets.
  • Do not leave children on their own in any room where there is a fire risk. 

Teaching them how to escape

These will be the same steps you need to know yourself for escaping from a blazing building. Make sure to run them through the whole process. Again, this is something you could even practise among yourselves. Make it a game, where getting out quickly earns a prize.

Calling the emergency services

If your home does succumb to a fire, it is important to immediately get in touch with someone who can help. Make sure to reach out via the following steps: 

  • Call 999: Do not reach out to the local fire service - calling 999 is free and results in a much speedier response. When you get through, make sure to ask for the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Give your address: State your full address, as well as your name. You will also want to give the name of the town you are in.
  • Explain the situation: Let them know what is going on. That means fire, but be as specific as you can. Mention what type of building has been affected and if you think anyone might still be inside. It could even be useful to mention what you think might have started the fire.

Looking for fire protection products for home or work?

Building Materials Nationwide supplies a comprehensive range of fire protection products available for delivery across the UK. Browse everything from fire protection barriers to Rockwool and British gypsum. We are proud to be a one-of-a-kind one-stop shop for DIY enthusiasts and industry professionals, saving them time and money along the way.

We also offer trade accounts for those in the industry to make the process of buying building supplies as seamless as possible. You will be granted access to our full product range, express UK delivery, and your own dedicated account manager. Interested to know more? Give our friendly and knowledgeable team a call or sign up for a trade account via our website today.