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Put out these home fire hazards before they start

While fire hazards around the home haven’t changed since the start of the pandemic, they’ve increased in number, according to Canada’s fire services—thanks to the fact we’re spending a lot more time at home these days. And with the rise of hybrid workforces, it’s likely this will continue to be a concern.

“Traditionally, cooking has been the number one cause of fires, followed by electrical fires,” says Gal Salazar, Senior Loss Control Representative with Wawanesa. “People are at home more often nowadays, and will be for the foreseeable future. While fire hazards haven’t changed over the years, they may be more commonplace with the longer hours that people spend at home, whether they be cooking mishaps or electrical fires.”

While those are two of the most common fire hazards, there are others—most of which are exacerbated when families spend more time at home. In some cases, people may be unaware of the risks. But in many cases, fires are the result of distraction, especially when multitasking. And it’s now easier than ever to get distracted when trying to cook a meal while preparing for a video conference and trying to get the kids to do their homework.

“Distraction while cooking is one of the biggest issues,” says Dom Mandaliti, Manager of Loss Control with Wawanesa. “COVID has proven that if people aren’t paying attention, they’re going to increase the likelihood of a fire.”


Here are some of the most common fire hazards around the home, how to extinguish different types of fires and a list of tips to keep your family safe.

Kitchen fires

Kitchen fires are the most common fire hazard in the home—after all, this is where you’ll find a ‘perfect storm’ of heat, grease, water and electricity. Grease fires can be extremely dangerous, and usually occur when someone leaves a frying pan unattended on the stove or overheats it during cooking. And against what you might think instinctually, this type of fire will spread if you throw water on it.

Appliances can also be hazardous if used incorrectly. For example, you can start an electrical fire if a kitchen appliance comes into contact with water, which isn’t great news for messy cooks or those prone to spilling.

If kids are cooking, there’s a chance they could make a rookie mistake, like putting metal cookware in the microwave and not realizing it could cause sparks and start a fire. And these days, some people have been attempting to disinfect their face masks and personal protective equipment by zapping them in the microwave—but if the mask has a metal nose bridge or staples, that could start a fire.

Electrical fires

If you’re working at home more often, it’s also likely that you’re plugging in more electronics, especially if you have kids in the house. Older homes may not have proper wiring to handle the sheer number of appliances and electronics we use today, which could cause shorts and sparks.

Leaving your laptop on combustible surfaces (like the couch, bed or other soft surface) is another fire hazard, since it can block airflow vents. Once lithium-ion batteries reach a certain temperature, they can short-circuit or spontaneously combust, causing an electrical fire.

But electrical fires can also result from faulty products that short-circuit. Check for government recalls on electronics and appliances

“We’re now shopping online more often and those appliances that you buy may not meet the safety standards of the Canadian Standards Association or be properly tested by accredited laboratories here in Canada,” says Salazar. “Just because it’s on Amazon doesn’t mean that it’s CSA approved. Read the fine print.”


Other common fire hazards around the home

Having proper insurance can help to mitigate financial losses from a house fire, but it can’t replace any objects of sentimental value—so it’s always better to prevent a fire or, at the very least, put it out properly before it can spread and cause more damage. Here are some other culprits that can easily start house fires:

Smoking: A number of fires are caused by partially extinguished cigarette butts. Of particular concern is potting soil, which is much more fibrous and dry than natural soil, so it can turn a planter into a fire pit. Fires can also spark if people throw their cigarette butts—which they think are extinguished—over their condo or apartment balcony. During particularly hot, dry weather, this is even more of a hazard.

Barbeques, fire pits and portable heaters: Over the past year, more people have invested in barbeques, as well as fire pits and portable heat lamps, to spruce up their outdoor spaces and make them usable year-round. But if a barbeque is too close to a wooden fence or an exterior wall, especially one with vinyl siding, it could start a fire. In colder weather, space heaters can easily overheat, especially those with heating coils.

DIY reno projects: More people are also tackling their own reno projects around the home, which can cause a garage or house fire. “If it’s 35°C outside, the temperature inside a closed garage is going to be 40°C or 45°C,” says Mandaliti. “Be mindful of paints, solvents or jerry cans, which could spontaneously combust in that kind of heat.” If flammable liquids reach their flashpoint and combine with oxygen, they form a concentration of gas that could combust. Certain tools could also cause sparks to fly and ignite nearby materials.

How to put out different types of fires:

If you knock over a candle and start a fire on wood, paper, cloth or plastic, you can use water to put it out. But in many other cases, water will make a fire worse. If any type of fire is burning out of control, get out of the house and call 911.

For grease fires: Never use water—this can cause the grease to explode and spread even further. Instead, cover the flames with a metal lid (to suffocate the fire) or smother it with baking soda or salt. For larger grease fires, use a Class B dry chemical fire extinguisher.

For flammable liquids: For gasoline and other ignitable liquids (like propane, alcohol or paint), smother the fire with a blanket, or use a Class B fire extinguisher, which uses foam, powder or carbon dioxide.

For electrical fires: Never throw water on an electrical fire—water is a conductor of electricity, so you could shock yourself. If an electrical appliance is on fire, unplug it (if safe to do so). For a small fire, smother it with baking soda. For a larger fire, you’ll need a Class C or ABC Class fire extinguisher (don’t use any other class, since it could conduct electricity).

Fire prevention checklist:

To ensure your space is safer, follow this list of action items:

  • Test your fire alarm system on a monthly basis and create a fire evacuation plan for your family
  • Have an easily accessible fire extinguisher on each floor of your home, as well as in the garage, for small fires
  • Make sure everyone in your household knows where the fire extinguishers are, how to use them and when to use them
  • Instruct everyone in your household how to put out different types of fires—and when to call 911
  • If you have kids, teach them basic fire safety rules in the kitchen—including the perils of digital distraction
  • Always operate laptops and other electronics on a hard surface (preferably a laptop stand) and shut them down when not in use. More laptop safety tips
  • Make sure cords for your electronics or power bars aren’t frayed
  • Store gasoline and other chemicals in their proper containers in locations that are protected from heat
  • When not in use, store fuels and chemicals in a secure, dry location away from heat sources and inaccessible by pets and children

It’s also important to ensure you have adequate insurance coverage before any incident, so you will have a safety net if a fire occurs in the future. Speak with your insurance broker to review your policy and discuss whether you need to add protection for your property and belongings.

By spotting the fire hazards in your home, making adjustments where possible, and educating yourself and your family, you’ll be less prone to risks. And if a fire does happen, you’ll be more prepared to deal with it and escape unharmed.


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