Fire prevention and electrical safety at home

Domestic fires are one of the greatest risks we face in our homes. They’re 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.

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’s not advised to panic about the potential threat of a fire, it would also not be wise to ignore the possibility altogether. Let’s discover how you can keep your home, friends and family safe from a blaze.


Graph

Domestic fire statistics

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.

UK domestic fire statistics and rates

According to government statistics, there were as many as 37,740 domestic fires in the UK in 2018. 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 numbers from 2018 equate to over 103 fires a day. Interestingly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, England accounted for 81.6% of those, with the statistics showing:

  • 30,813 home fires in England
  • 5,310 home fires in Scotland
  • 1,617 home fires in Wales

Despite that, it was actually in Scotland where the problem was most commonly occuring – working out at an average of 979 fires for every 1 million people (as opposed to just 554 fires for every one million in England).

Unfortunately, these figures are underlined by the number of people who lose their lives in these tragedies. The same report showed as many as 398 people died over the course of the year. Again though, this was well below the highest recorded number (this time from 1986) when as many as 967 fire-related casualties occurred.

It’s 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 research, the most common causes of domestic fires are:

  • Cooking appliances (48.3%)
  • Other electrical appliances (12.8%)
  • Electrical distribution (11.9%)
  • Smoking materials (7%)

In truth, everything on this list is somewhat preventable, but the trick is knowing what to look for. We’ll assess what you need to be vigilant around later on this guide.

Research has found that home fires most commonly occur in the colder months. December is the chief offender, between the hours of 6-7pm.

This data emphasises the need for fire alarms in a home. Worryingly, in as many as 25% of the cases recorded, no functional fire smoke detector was present in the home. This accounted for 200 of the 398 deaths.

Fire on House

How quickly do fires spread?

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?

1 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 a thick, heavy smoke.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

5 minutes. By this stage the entire exterior of the house is likely to be on fire as well. It’s almost impossible to escape a fire at this point, even with the help of trained professionals.

Source: SSH Fire & Security

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’s important to remember they aren’t more valuable than your life.

Wires

Electrical safety in the home

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


Electric plug fire

Common causes of electrical fires at home

As we’ve seen, the bulk of fires caused in the home come 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’s too high for a lamp, there’s a good chance it could malfunction and catch alight. At the same time, also be wary of what you’re placing on top of lights. Paper or clothing of any kind shouldn’t sit on what is an incredibly hot surface.

  • Wiring. If wiring becomes faulty, it’s a huge health risk. A lot of older homes weren’t set up to accommodate the influx of modern technology. That means they’re 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’re a coil radiator, 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.


Electrical Extension

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 isn’t 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’re not positioned anywhere which could be a trip hazard. Pulling a cable out can also cause a fire.

  • Chargers. 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’s 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.

  • Fuses. With fuses, the key is again to ensure they aren’t 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’s one of the easiest ways to ensure you prevent a fire.


Electric Switch

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’s also the option to buy plug-in versions for individual sockets.

  • Think about combustible materials. As we’ve already alluded to, it’s 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’s wise to ask a qualified professional to come and check out your home. They’ll 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.

  • Don’t let things run when you’re out or asleep. Allowing something like a washing machine or tumble dryer to run while you’re not aware of it has the potential to be deadly. If something goes wrong, you won’t 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’ve given, and look for anything which doesn’t seem right.

Ultimately, if you’re not sure about the condition of any of your electrics, turn to a trained professional who’ll be able to make a fair and balanced assessment.

Battery

Fire safety prevention advice

While electrical hazards are the primary cause of a fire, it would be wrong to overlook other potential issues. Let’s 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 Extinguisher

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 which most homes should have at least one of. Ideally, you’ll 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 the 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’re 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 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’s still relatively small.

They’re relatively easy to use, but be sure to read the instructions printed on yours. You’ll need to point it at the base of the fire for the best affect. Ideally keep these stored in the visible spots of a hallway. That way they’re easy to access whenever they’re needed.

While some of these might not seem like necessary items, they’ll make a huge difference in the event of a fire.


Fire Exit

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’s easy to overlook safety standards.

It’s not uncommon for a number of additional risks to come into play during these periods. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Parties

They’re 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 ash trays littered around the house for those who smoke, and try to clean these out every couple of hours so they don’t become too full.

It would also be wise pointing 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

These rarely used items have a long shelf life, but that might sometimes lull us into a false sense of security. Every year when you get them out, make sure they’re still operational and that no bulbs have blown. If one has, replace it.

Much like with other electrical appliances, it’s important you neither leave them on unattended, or place them anywhere near a 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 which the lights came in.

Decorations

These are again something which usually only come out at certain times of year. Try to only buy ones which are non-flammable. Tinsel is usually fine, but again you’ll need to check what the labelling says.

Avoid paper decorations at all costs. While they look nice and are cheap, they’re 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.

Candles

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’re one of the chief 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 isn’t positioned somewhere near a draught, where it could be blown over.
  • Don’t play with matches near the candle (for example, lighting matches with the candle and then melting the wax).
  • Make sure the candle is standing upright and firmly lodged in place.
  • Candles should always be placed on top of a heat-resistant surface. Avoid plastic surfaces like TVs and bathtubs.
  • Put a candle out before you move it anywhere.
  • Try to always leave a gap of 10cm (at least 4 inches) between each candle you’re burning.

Fireworks

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

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

It’s the sporadic and inconsistent nature of seasonal and celebratory events which makes them such a danger. It’s easy to overlook their threat. Remember to stay vigilant during events like this.


Man looking at Extinguisher

Tips for preventing the chances of a domestic fire

If you’re 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 a number of potential hazards in a kitchen. The key is to make sure you’re always monitoring any open flames or heated appliances. Don’t 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’s 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’s sometimes hard to make rational decisions after you’ve been drinking, try to avoid using candles, matches or heat-generating electrical devices when intoxicated. The same applies for when you feel particularly fatigued.

  • Leaving TVs on standby. It’s tempting to do, as it saves you a little time later down the line. However, leaving a television set on standby while you’re asleep, or even just not in the room, can be a fire hazard. Unless you’re popping out for less than 5 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’s checking your electrics regularly, or taking your own steps to prevent a disaster.

Firemen

What to do in case of a fire

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


Fire Wreckage

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 a home.

Escape plan

It’s crucial to have an escape plan in place. Understandably, this might not be something you’ve thought about before. As such, it could be hard to know where to start. Here’s some advice.

  • 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’s the only way to know if it will really 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’s 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’s a good chance your house will be filled with smoke, unless you’ve managed to escape within the first minute of the fire. As such, it’s crucial you 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’s in accessible reach.

If your route is blocked

If you notice there’s 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.


Child by a fire

Children’s fire safety

Even if you’re someone who’s very careful when it comes to fire safety, having a child means you’ll have to also educate them. Children aren’t as aware of the dangers something like a match or open flame possess.

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 fire. We’ve 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
  • Don’t leave toys on or near to a heater
  • Don’t turn the oven or hob on
  • Don’t put anything on top of 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 back fire 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 like:

  • Keeping any objects which can start a fire (matches, candles etc.) well out of the reach of young kids
  • Put a childproof fireguard in front of any open fire or heaters
  • Keep portable heaters in a safe place, where they can’t be knocked over
  • Put plug guards in front of all sockets
  • Don’t leave children on their own in any room where there’s 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 amongst yourselves. Make it a game, where getting out quickly earns a prize.


Fire Truck

Calling the emergency services

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

  1. Call 999. Don’t 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.
  2. Give your address. State your full address, as well as your name. You’ll also want to give the name of the town you’re in.
  3. Explain the situation. Let them know what’s going on. Obviously that means a 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.