49 Percent of Fires in Homes Start in the Kitchen

©. Home fire sprinkler coalition

I am shopping for fire extinguishers this weekend.

We have said for years that every new house in North America should have fire sprinklers, and so have the fire chiefs and the National Fire Protection Association. It's in the National Model Building Code, which gets adopted by local codes, except in those states that ban sprinkler requirements. Yes, the builders are so powerful that they get state governments to ban local governments from making their own cities safe. ProPublica did an exposé about this:

U.S. homebuilders and realtors unleashed an unprecedented campaign to fend off the change, which they argued would not improve safety enough to justify the added cost. Housing industry trade groups poured money into lobbying and political contributions...To date, industry groups have helped block efforts to make sprinkler systems mandatory in new homes in at least 25 states. Only California and Maryland, along with dozens of cities, have adopted the International Code Council’s recommendation and required the devices.
Since 30 states would rather have you die in a fire than make developers put sprinklers in the houses they build, we are mostly on our own. So it makes sense to know where fires actually start and what we can do to prevent them.
Skimpy wiring

I finally get to use this great drawing!/Public Domain

According to a survey of 3,000 Americans conducted by Furnace Compare, most people think the biggest source of fires is from electric failures. No doubt this is due to decades of work by the industry to get us to fix our wiring.

Where fires start

In fact, half of the fires in our homes start in the kitchen. "The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that home cooking fires peaked during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year alone, State Farm paid over $118 million for almost 2,500 cooking and grease fire claims." This is why every kitchen should have an ABC fire extinguisher handy.

percentage without

I was surprised to see how many people actually do have fire extinguishers; I do not and am going out tomorrow to buy a pair of them to keep by the two stoves in our house.

percentage who leave kitchen unattended

The other thing that surprised me was how many people leave their kitchen unattended. "A third of people who died from kitchen fires were sleeping. Make sure to double check that your stove and oven are off. If you can help it, try not to cook when you’re tired to prevent accidentally leaving your kitchen equipment on." I wonder if this is a good sales pitch for Instant Pots or induction ranges, if there is a safety case to be made for them.

The other big source of danger is from heaters that people use in winter.

The NFPA reports that local fire departments responded to 52,050 fires involving heating equipment between 2012 and 2016. They also found that:

  • The leading contributing factor of home heating fires (27 percent) were from a failure to clean equipment.
  • The leading contributing factor of ignition home heating fire deaths (54 percent) was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, like clothing and bedding.
  • Most home heating fire deaths (86 percent) involved stationary or portable space heaters.
  • Nearly half of home heating fires (48 percent) happened in December, January and February.

So keep your heaters away from anything flammable. Keep them clean and turn them off when you leave the room. But most importantly, check your smoke detectors, and don't vote for jerks who ban sprinkler laws. From the NFPA: States prohibiting statewide and new local adoptions of fire sprinkler requirements in new one- and two-family homes: AK, AL, AZ, CT, DE, GA, HI, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, PA, SC, TX, UT, VA, WV, WI

CC BY 2.0. MORITA MIYATA CORPORATION

And this year, add fire extinguishers to your shopping list. Not the jazziest Christmas present but I am buying them tomorrow and putting them under our tree. I wish I could buy these pretty Japanese ones.