The Most Common Places That Fires Occur in the Home

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Of all fires reported in the U.S. annually, 26% happen in the home. And tragically, these residential fires also cause the majority of fire-related deaths.1

But knowing where and when fires are most likely to ignite can help you protect yourself, your family, and your home from tragedy.

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Fire Prevention Week 2023

Fire Prevention Week is October 8-14, 2023. This year’s theme is “Cooking safety starts with YOU. Pay attention to fire prevention™.”

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S., with around 170,000 reported in 2021. To help keep your home and loved ones safe, we put together a list of tips with simple but vital actions you can take to stay safe in the kitchen. 

Where house fires originate

Kitchens

The heart of the home, kitchens are also the most common spot in the house for fires to start.2 Specifically, unattended cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires and fire-related injuries.3

These man-made fires are also easily preventable: Keep an eye on the stove, oven, and other appliances like toaster ovens, and move combustible items away from the stove. Never leave the kitchen when you’re working with high heat during preparations like frying, boiling, or broiling—fires need only seconds to go from a small flame to an out-of-control blaze.

A few more tips for safe cooking:

  • If someone else can’t watch things while you step away for a bathroom break or to help the kids, turn off the cooking appliance while you’re in the other room.
  • Turn off the stove and all appliances once you’re done cooking.
  • Keep everything off hot surfaces. Pay close attention to where you set dish towels or hot pads. Designate a spot, like a hook, to practice putting them back between each use.
  • Roll up baggy sleeves or wear a securely fastened apron over billowy shirts or bottoms to prevent singeing.
  • Keep drip pans clean—accumulated debris can catch fire.
  • Do not heat your home with your oven.
  • Keep a Class B fire extinguisher handy in case of fire. Water will only spread oil or grease and feed the flames.
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Keep a fire extinguisher handy

Fire extinguishers can be the difference between a small kitchen fire and a catastrophe. Purchase and replace fire extinguishers for the rooms where fires are most likely to start, and choose the right class of extinguisher for the type of fire most likely to occur in that room.

Bedrooms

Bedrooms are one of the top three most common spots in the house for electrical fires and for fire injuries and deaths.1,4 Bedroom fires have a high potential for tragedy since they often happen when people are asleep.5

Electrical bedroom fires are often due to faulty or overtaxed wiring or malfunctioning lighting,6 but bedroom fires also start with cords, space heaters, or electric blankets.7 Bedding, carpeting, draperies, and other creature comforts of your bedroom are often the first items ignited in a fire.1

Some tips for preventing fires in the bedroom:

  • Quickly address any loose or otherwise unsafe-looking wall outlets.
  • Replace extension cords, chargers, lighting cords, or other power cords as soon as they show signs of wear. If you can see the wires, it’s time for a replacement. You can have lighting shops rewire a favorite lamp if the cord is worn out.
  • Don’t overload outlets by plugging in too many devices, power strips, or extension cords. Unplug devices when they’re not in use or find different spots for them.
  • Place space heaters at least three feet from anything that could catch fire.
  • Kids often experiment with fire in secret spots like under their bed or in the closet, and 40% of structure fires started by children happen in the bedroom.5,8 Teach children not to play with matches or lighters, and help them understand how fire ignites and spreads.

Living rooms

That beautiful Edwardian fireplace in the center of the living room sold you on your home, but it needs more maintenance and care than the occasional dusting and cute decor. Heating equipment is the second leading cause of house fires, with chimneys being the most likely type of heat source to cause a fire.1

Fireplaces, chimneys, wood-burning stoves, and space heaters are all culprits for starting an out-of-control fire in the living room. Practice a few safety precautions to keep that homey fire in the firebox where it belongs:

  • Before you head into the cooler months and start up a cozy fire, have your chimney professionally cleaned.
  • Keep combustibles, including draperies and upholstered furniture, at least three feet from the heat source.
  • Invest in a fireplace screen to prevent embers from escaping.
  • Never leave the fire unattended, and make sure it’s completely out before leaving the house.
  • Use the recommended fuel for your heat source.
  • Teach kids to keep at least three feet away from the heat source so they don’t get burned or, worse, ignite something.9

Learn more in our fireplace safety guide.

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Smoke detectors protect you in every room

Placing smoke detectors throughout your home is a critical step to responding to fire regardless of the room it starts in. See our smoke alarm recommendations and tips for installing and maintaining them.

Attics and crawl spaces

Inaccessible attics and crawl spaces are easy to forget about, but 13% of electrical fires start in these neglected spaces. Electrical failure or malfunction account for about 88% of these fires.4

If you live in an older home, suspect dubious DIY electrical work, or want reassurance that everything is in order, hire a professional, licensed electrician to check it out and address issues. While electrical problems can be expensive to fix, the cost of neglecting it can be devastating.

Laundry rooms

Laundry rooms are where 4% of residential fires begin, with dryers being the culprit of 92% of laundry room fires.10

Fortunately, preventing laundry fires is simple for the most part:

  • Don’t overload your washer or dryer or pack items down. Instead, leave room for laundry to tumble. Follow your machine manufacturer’s recommendations for capacity.
  • Clean the lint screen and drum between loads to prevent buildup.
  • About once a year, clean the dryer exhaust vent and ducts.
  • Replace plastic venting material with flexible metal venting material.
  • Ensure that your appliances are plugged into outlets with the proper voltage.

Use our home maintenance and safety checklists to help you avoid common appliance hazards like fires.

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Are you cleaning your lint filter the right way?

After a near-fire from her dryer, SafeWise expert Rebecca Edwards got a lesson in proper filter cleaning from the dryer repair person. Watch to learn how you should be cleaning the lint filter—and how often.

Outside areas

Residential fires start outside 4% of the time.1 Your grill, smoker, fire pit, and even dry vegetation can be sources of outdoor fires. Prevent fire and damage to your home by setting a few rules:

  • Use grills or smokers about 10 feet away from structures (including the eaves), deck railings, trailers, vehicles, or combustible materials.11, 12
  • Clean your grill or smoker after every use to prevent fuel buildup.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy when grilling.
  • Keep a hose or bucket of water near firepits, and clear the area of vegetation, fuel, or other combustibles.
  • Make sure fires are completely extinguished before heading back inside.
  • Avoid driving on or dragging anything across dry vegetation that could cause a spark.

Other potential fire hazards

While they might not top the list, keep a close eye on the following:

Children

Kids who start fires may just be curious, but they may also be experiencing some larger emotions that they don’t know how to express.13 Working through and exploring the root of those emotions may not be the first thing that comes to mind to prevent fires, but it’s a critical complement to teaching kids fire safety and setting rules about matches or lighters.8

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Teaching kids to be safe

Safety is a mindset that starts with the tiniest members of your household. Teach kids safe habits at any age with our safety tips and tricks guide.

Hair tools

Anyone who’s grazed an ear or neck while styling their hair knows that heat tools get hot enough to burn. Always unplug your beauty products and leave them to cool on a heat-resistant surface away from flammable objects.

Candles

Whether you’re creating ambiance or infusing a room with the scent of sandalwood, the open flame of a candle is a fire hazard. Never leave candles burning unattended, and be sure you set them on a heat-resistant surface away from upholstery, linens, and curtains.

Smoking

Don’t smoke in bed or near upholstered furniture, curtains, and linens that can quickly catch fire from a stray ash.

Christmas trees

Christmas tree fires often start because of faulty lights or proximity to a heat source. Keep your holiday merry and bright by inspecting older lights, putting new lights on your tree, and keeping them away from heat sources.

Dry Christmas trees are also more likely to catch fire. See our tips for avoiding holiday hazards.

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Shelby Hall, National Fire Protection Association, “Home Structure Fires,” April 2023. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  2. Red Cross, “Fire FAQ,” Accessed October 12, 2023.
  3. National Fire Protection Association, “Cooking,” Accessed October 12, 2023.
  4. FEMA, “Residential Building Electrical Fires,” December 2018. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  5. Ryan Fiorenzi, StartSleeping.org, “Fire Safety During Sleep,” January 2022. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  6. FEMA, “Residential Building Fire Trends,” March 2020. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  7. National Fire Protection Association “Top Fire Causes: Heating and Cooking,” Accessed October 12, 2023.
  8. Joav Merrick, Carrie Howell Bowling, Hatim A. Omar, Frontiers in Public Health, “Firesetting in Childhood and Adolescence,” October 8, 2013. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  9. National Fire Protection Association, “Heating Safety,” 2017. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  10. Richard Campbell, National Fire Protection Association, “Home Fires Involving Clothes Dryers and Washing Machines, March 2017. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  11. Weber, “How Far Away Should My Grill Be from My House/Deck?” Accessed October 12, 2023.
  12. National Fire Protection Association, “Grilling Safety Tips,” 2019. Accessed October 12, 2023.
  13. Melissa Dittmann, American Psychological Association, “Stopping Young Fire-Starters,” July/August 2004. October 12, 2023.

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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