5 Leading Causes of House Fires
Bill Allen | August 8, 2023 | Premises Liability
In the U.S., house fires kill approximately 2,800 people each year, in addition to causing over 11,000 non-fatal injuries. In total, about ten people die from house fires for every 1,000,000 U.S. residents. Ten is a number that might not seem like many, but the sad reality is that most of those deaths were preventable.
House fires can produce serious burn injuries and asphyxiation, often leaving surviving fire victims to face lung damage and scars that will affect them for the rest of their lives. As a result, victims and their families incur significant losses, even in non-fatal house fires.
What Happens in a House Fire?
House fires ignite the framing, carpet, and furniture within your home, quickly growing out of control as they reach temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The combustion of the materials in your house produces smoke and toxic gasses, including carbon monoxide, the inhalation and subsequent poisoning of which are the leading cause of fire-related deaths.
Modern building materials and furnishings ignite quickly. Just 30 years ago, you would have as long as 17 minutes to escape a house fire, but according to one study, you now only have about three minutes to escape. Therefore, in the event of a fire, you should never try to rescue your belongings and instead evacuate as quickly as possible.
Common Causes of House Fires
The best way to survive a house fire is to avoid them in the first place. Unlike other life-threatening incidents, like car accidents, house fires are largely preventable. The five most common causes of house fires are as follows:
1. Cooking Fires
Cooking is the number one cause of house fires.
Some common causes of indoor cooking fires include the following:
- Hot grease or oil hitting a gas burner
- An open flame igniting alcohol
- Food on unattended stoves boiling over onto hot burners
- Natural gas leaking from stoves or ovens
- Worn electrical wiring coming into contact with moist food
Of course, cooking fires do not always ignite within the home. Flames or hot coals from a barbeque grill can ignite a wood deck, and a propane leak can cause a gas explosion. Every year, firefighters even warn about the dangers of cooking oil and propane burners used to deep fry turkeys.
To avoid cooking fires, never leave your stove or oven unattended while cooking, and always have a fire extinguisher and a functioning smoke detector to know if there’s a fire in your kitchen.
2. Heating Appliances
Heating appliances are the second-leading cause of house fires.
Some appliances that have a reputation for starting fires include the following:
- Wood and gas fireplaces
- Water heaters
- Propane and electric space heaters
- Electric blankets
- Outdoor firepits
These devices are dangerous because they are designed to generate heat with a flame or electric coil, which means they are susceptible to overheating and igniting nearby flammable materials, starting a fire. They can also malfunction or leak fuel.
You can reduce your risk of fire from heating appliances by keeping the area around them clear of any flammable materials. In particular, keep away any materials that release flammable vapors, such as gasoline cans, paint cans, or oily rags, from these devices.
3. Lighting and Electrical Fires
Electrical devices, such as lights and kitchen and bathroom appliances, can start electrical fires. In addition, the wiring in your home can start an electrical fire if it is worn, miswired, or includes improperly grounded electrical circuits. Any of these electric problems can ignite a fire when an electrical arc produces sparks.
You can reduce the risk of lighting and electrical fires by throwing away or repairing any damaged electrical appliances. Simply taping over worn or frayed wires will not keep you safe from electrocution or fires. Furthermore, never use electrical appliances while running the water in the bathroom or kitchen.
Arson is a criminal act in which someone deliberately sets fire to a structure. The arsonist can be someone in the house or an outsider, but in either case, they will often use accelerants like gasoline or turpentine to make sure the structure ignites instead of burning out.
English common law considers arson a felony because of the risk to people and other structures. Florida also classifies arson as a felony, with sentencing enhancements if the fire injures or kills anyone.
Smoking, while the fifth-most common cause of house fires, is, in fact, the top cause of house fire fatalities. These fires often start when a smoker falls asleep, meaning they often miss the three-minute window to escape the fire.
You can reduce the risk of smoking-related fires by not smoking in bed and ensuring that your cigarette butts are completely extinguished before leaving ashtrays unattended.
Liability for Injuries Caused By House Fires
In many situations, house fires are simply tragic accidents. But in certain cases, you may have a legal claim to levy against someone else for causing fire-related injuries or a loved one’s fire-related death.
If you rent your home and a fire started due to your landlord’s negligence, you may have a premises liability claim. To hold a landlord responsible, you must show that they failed to exercise reasonable care in finding and fixing hazardous conditions on the property.
For example, if the landlord was responsible for changing your furnace filters and failed to do so, they might bear liability for any resulting fires. Similarly, if the wiring in the home was improperly grounded and started an electrical fire, you might have a claim.
Another situation where liability might fall on someone else is when a defective product starts a fire. Manufacturers have strict liability for injuries or wrongful deaths caused by defective products. Thus, if your gas barbecue had a defective regulator that led to a gas explosion and house fire, you may have a product liability claim against its manufacturer.
The Role of a Personal Injury Lawyer After a House Fire
Injury lawyers can use the cause of your house fire to assess your case for compensation. Regardless of the cause of your house fire injuries or your loved one’s death in a house fire, you should consider speaking to a lawyer to determine who may bear liability for your losses.
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