Editors Note: The following guest article has been generously contributed by James Smith.
Every year, over 2500 people die and around 12,000 are injured in home fires in the United States. Direct property loss due to fires at home is estimated to be over $7.3 billion annually. Like any other man-made catastrophe, home fires can also be prevented.
To protect yourself and your family, it is essential that you understand the elementary characteristics of fire. Because fire spreads very quickly, there is absolutely no time to collect any belongings or make a phone call. In less than two minutes, a small fire can become fatal; in about five minutes, an entire residence can be engulfed in flames.
Smoke and heat from fire can be more hazardous than the flames. Inhaling the extremely hot air can char your lungs, while the noxious gases can make you drowsy and disoriented. Instead of waking up due to a fire, you may fall into deep sleep. Contrary to popular belief, asphyxiation is the leading cause of deaths caused by fire, surpassing burns by a 3-to-1 ratio.
A large majority of home fires are caused in the kitchen, while cooking. These fires are also the leading cause of injuries. At night, fires are mostly caused by cigarettes not put out properly, lack of precautionary measures around fireplaces, and heating appliances kept close to combustibles and furniture. These fires are considered more dangerous than others as they can fume for quite a long time before being discovered.
Fire is QUICK!
In less than thirty seconds, a minor flame can get totally out of control to become a major fire. It takes less than five minutes for a house to be filled with thick black smoke or to be completely engulfed in flames. Most fatal fires happen while people are sleeping. If you are woken up by a fire, don’t waste time trying to collect any things as fire spreads fast and the smoke is too thick. You will barely have time to escape.
The heat from fire is more dangerous than the flames. With room temperatures rising to 100 degrees at floor level and 600 degrees at eye level, the heat alone can kill. The hot air, if inhaled, can scorch your lungs and leave you dead in a matter of seconds. The heat can also melt your clothes and skin.
Fire isn’t bright, its pitch black. Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to find your way around the home you’ve lived in for years.
Flames do not kill as many people as toxic gases and smoke do. Oxygen is used by fire to produce toxic gases and smoke that kills. Inhaling small amounts of these gases can leave you disoriented, short of breath and drowsy. The colorless fumes can put you into deep sleep even before the flames reach you.
You can only prepare yourself and your family if you know the characteristics of fire. In case of a home fire, know that every second counts, so your family and you must be prepared. Have a fire escape plan and make sure each member of your family knows it well. You must keep some of the necessary survival supplies in your home. Keep an extra door as a fire escape route and see that it is not blocked in any way at any time. Install fire alarms and keep a check on them regularly to make sure they are functioning. Here are some tips to help you prepare:
A properly installed smoke alarm is the only thing in your house that can alert you and your family 24/7. A functioning smoke alarm enhances your chances of surviving a lethal house fire considerably.
Install smoke alarms that contain both photoelectric and ionization smoke sensors. Test their batteries monthly to ensure that they are in working condition. See that you have a smoke alarm installed on every level of your house, especially the basement. Sleeping areas should have smoke alarms both inside and outside, this is especially recommended by the US Fire Administration.
Furthermore, disabling a fire alarm can be a fatal mistake. Open a door or window, or wave a towel at the smoke alarm to clear the air.
During a Fire
If, even after all the precautionary measures, a fire happens to break out at your residence, follow these tips to ensure survival:
- While making your way towards the exit, crawl low under the smoke. Poisonous gases and smoke collect towards the ceiling, so crawling your way to the exit may allow you to escape.
- As soon as the smoke alarm sounds, think only of escaping. Do not stop to gather your belongings.
- If you see smoke blocking your exit, look for another way out.
- Before opening any doors, feel the door and the doorknob; if they feel hot, do not bother opening it, look for another escape route instead.
- While opening a door, open it slowly to see if there is heavy smoke or fire.
- Stop, drop, and roll if your clothes catch fire. Make sure you cover your face with your hands and roll on your back again and again until the fire is out.
Escaping the Fire
To ensure survival in case of a fire at home, you should know any obstacles that may hinder your escape route. For example, gratings or grills on windows usually have a fire safety feature that allows them to be opened easily from the inside.
Make sure you have fire escape ladders if your home is of multiple stories. Ensure that the anti-theft mechanisms that block entry from the outside are easily opened from the inside. Your family members’ safety is as important as yours, so you should teach them all the precautionary measures, as well as conduct a drill at least once a year so they know how to escape a deadly fire.
About the author: James Smith is a survivalist, who loves to write about survival skills and techniques. He has extensive knowledge about different survival kits and other survival supplies which he loves to share with others by writing blog. Follow him on twitter @jamessmith1609.