You might not associate the winter months with fire hazards. After all, isn’t it too wet and chilly for flames to burn out of control? Believe it or not. However, this is a common misconception. According to the American Red Cross, home fires tend to occur more in the winter than any other season, peaking in January. Here’s what to know about minimizing fire hazards this time of year to keep your home safe when the temperatures drop.
Common Causes of Winter Home Fires
In these cold, bleak months of winter, energy consumption soars. And with a recent surge of extreme weather across the U.S., predictions show that many American households will use even more heat and fuel sources this winter than in previous years. Cranking up the heat can feel unavoidable when it’s freezing outside, but not only does this raise utility costs, but it can also cause a hazardous spark. So be aware of the following home fire culprits:
- Heating Sources: Fireplaces, furnaces, space heaters, or HVAC units must be routinely inspected to ensure optimal function and adherence to safety codes.
- Electrical Power: Fraying cord wires, loose light bulbs, overused power strips, or short-circuiting outlets can disrupt normal electrical currents and ignite a fire.
- Kitchen Appliances: Stove ranges, ovens, microwaves, coffee makers, or other electric appliances can overheat and catch fire when turned on—or plugged in.
- Burning Candles: Open candle flames must be kept away from all flammable materials or surfaces and extinguished before you leave the house or fall asleep.
- Washers and Dryers: Lint build-up in the dryer filter must be removed after each use, and all ducts or vents in the whole machine must be cleaned yearly.
How to Prevent Home Fires in the Winter
Now that you know what causes a home fire, let’s examine a few simple but effective actions to help minimize the fire threat this winter. Having a plan and taking precautions could mean the difference between well-being and serious harm or costly damages. Here’s how to practice smart, intentional fire safety during the winter season—and all year round:
- Remove all open flames and heat sources from combustible items in your home, such as blankets, linens, towels, curtains, and upholstery.
- Inspect electrical cords to make sure there are no fraying wires. Keep cords away from water sources, and don’t use an outlet if it sparks.
- Unplug electrical appliances or other devices when not in use. Do not overload a power strip—this will cause a dangerous current output.
- Use dry wood or gas fuel in a fireplace. Never burn paper indoors—this could create a harmful and highly flammable chemical reaction.
- Turn off light fixtures when you leave a room. Screw the bulbs in tightly, and opt for LED when possible, as these bulbs use less energy.
- Schedule inspection, maintenance, and cleaning services on your HVAC unit and other gas or electric heat sources at least once a year.
- Keep flammable items away from the stovetop, oven, or other electric appliances while cooking, and turn them off when you are finished.
- Do not leave a burning candle alone in an unoccupied room. If possible, use a flameless oil diffuser, wax warmer, or air freshener instead.
What to Do if a Winter Home Fire Occurs
Despite these safety measures, fire emergencies can sometimes happen on your watch. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that 50 percent of all heating fires occur from December to February. In the event you do incur fire-related loss or damage, follow these next steps to alleviate the long-term impacts:
- If the flames are containable, use a fire extinguisher to stop them from spreading. Point the extinguisher’s nozzle toward the base of the fire, then pull the pin to release its lock mechanism. Squeeze the lever, and sweep the nozzle back and forth.
- If the fire intensifies, escape through the nearest door or window. Leave personal items behind, then once you and all other occupants are outside, shut the exit firmly so the smoke doesn’t follow. Retreat as far away from the building as you can.
- Call the local fire department and emergency response service as soon as you can access a phone. Contact them to share your location and determine a safe, central meeting spot if you get separated from other household members.
- Once you can re-enter the premises, take photos of the interior and exterior to document the loss incurred, then file a disaster claim with your insurance provider.
- Hire a professional fire restoration service to deep-clean your home from top to bottom, remove the smoke fumes, eliminate soot and toxic residue, and sanitize the furniture, drapes, walls, carpet, and surfaces, restoring all of it to pre-fire condition.
Winter Home Fires Happen—Safe Precautions Matter
In freezing temperatures, fire hazards escalate. But when you’re aware of the risks, you’ll be more equipped to take the right measures to protect those you love and minimize the damage. Winter emergencies can be severe, so plan for maximum safety.