October is National Fire Prevention Month, and that highlights a key concept: It's better to prevent fires than to think about trying to escape one, says Meri-K Appy, president of the nonprofit Home Safety Council, based in Washington.
Still, every household should have working smoke detectors on every floor and in every bedroom, Appy says. Every family should create and practice an escape plan so everybody knows exactly how to get out, who to help out and where to gather outside if there is a fire. Appy talked us through some of the big fire dangers in the average home and offered some tips:
1. Cooking. : This is by far the No. 1 cause of home fires, Appy says. Especially frying, broiling and grilling. "People lose track of it," she says. A child cries, the doorbell rings, the dog wants out, and the next thing you know that pan you forgot on the stove is in flames. "Stay by your pan," Appy says. "If you have to turn away, turn the fire off."
2. Heating. : In winter, heating overtakes cooking as the cause of home fires. The main danger is space heaters, especially electric ones. Placed too close to furniture, or knocked over by a cat, they are deadly. Keep at least 3 clear feet of space all around the unit and never operate it unless you are in the room. Turn it off when you go to sleep.
3. Electricity.: Old wiring can be a significant danger, Appy says. If lights flicker or you smell something funny or you run extension cords all over because you don't have enough outlets, get a licensed electrician to make sure your wiring meets code requirements. Use one cord per outlet plug. "You never want that kind of octopus thing going on," Appy says.
4. Friendly fires. : Candles, fireplaces, oil lamps and chimeneas feel warm and lovely, but they pose dangers, too. Try battery-operated electric candles, instead.
5. Smoking. : It's the No. 1 cause of fire deaths. A cigarette or cigar butt that falls on upholstery or a mattress can smolder for hours - until you've fallen asleep - then burst into flames. If you must smoke, the best place to do it is outdoors.