Home > Home Security Guide

Home Fire Safety

The most important thing to remember in a fire situation is the speed of fire spread in a structure. When talking to people who have just experienced a fire incident the most common comment is how fast the fire intensified. Most of our personal experience with fire is the back yard grill or campfire. These always seem to take a long time to ignite and grow. The same cannot be said for a structure fire. Once it starts it preheats all of the material in the structure so it can engulf an entire room in only a second. Once you understand that concept you can see why it is always stated, “Never go back into a burning structure”. Once you become aware of a fire leave the structure immediately (do not try to gather belongings). Once outside – Stay outside. Call the fire department from your cell phone outside or from a neighbor’s house. DO NOT under any circumstances go back into the structure.

Another consideration is the environment inside a burning structure. Fire flames are not the major cause of deaths in a fire incident. It’s the smoke and toxic fumes given off by the material involved. While your favorite chair may not be in actual flames it could be hot enough to be giving off toxic fumes. The visible smoke is deadly but the invisible toxic fumes are worst. It’s hard to explain this to someone in the front yard who can see inside their living room and wants to go back for a picture or two. What you cannot see is the heat and toxic fumes, both of which can disable and then kill you.

Smoke detectors

Smoke detectors can be lifesavers. They can respond to particles of combustion before there is visible smoke. This gives you the early warning necessary to evacuate the house. Unfortunately they can sometimes respond to dust or “friendly” smoke from the evening meal in the kitchen. While this happens more often then not, don’t get lulled into the attitude that it’s another false alarm. In the case of the over cooked meal it’s not a false alarm at all. Treat every alarm as the real thing until it can be proven otherwise. This means getting everyone out of the house. While it may be an inconvenience the alternative is deadly. Remember that once you can see the fire it will grow quickly and you may not be able to escape.

Most detectors installed today are powered from the home 120vac power. In addition they have batteries to power the detector in case of power failure. They are also interconnected so that if one detector senses a fire condition all of the detector will sound an alarm. In older home the detectors are just battery powered and are stand-alone units. In either case it is imperative that the batteries be kept up to date. The method recommended by the National Fire Protection Association is to change the batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. Use the old battery in some non critical device.


Now that the weather has turned cold we’re using the fireplace to help us stay warm. We all appreciate a good fire but there are a few precautions we need to take. Always be sure the fireplace flue is clean. This is a necessary task ever year that is best left to a professional. Burning woods (seasoned hardwood are best, Soft or moist woods are worst) leave a residue on the inside of the flue that can be dangerous. Here is a check list for your use:

  • Check the spark arrestor at the top of the chimney to be sure it’s in place and doesn’t need repair.

  • Install a screen that completely covers the fireplace opening to keep sparks from flying out. Keep combustible materials such as carpets, furniture, paper, logs and kindling at least 3 feet away from the fireplace. Arrange andirons so logs can’t roll out.

  • Use only enough fuel to keep the fire at the desired temperature. Avoid “roaring” fires. They can start chimney fires from soot and creosote deposits in the flue.

  • If your fireplace has a gas valve to provide a flame to start the fire be sure to turn it off as soon as the wood starts to burn on its own.

  • Do not use gasoline or other flammable liquids to kindle or rekindle a fire because the flammable vapors can explode. Never use or store fuels near a fire; explosive vapors can travel the length of a room.

  • Keep the damper open while the fuel is burning to provide for efficient burning and to prevent accumulation of poisonous or explosive gases.

  • Never burn Christmas tree greens. They cause many sparks when burning and can cause a chimney fire.

  • Remove colored comic sections before rolling newspaper into logs. The colored inks contain lead and can produce toxic gases.

  • Do not use coal, charcoal or polystyrene packaging in a fireplace unless the fireplace is designed to handle the excess heat and smoke which occurs when burning these materials.

  • Do not treat artificial logs (made from sawdust and wax) the same way you treat real wood logs. Use only one at a time. If you use more, they can produce too much heat for some fireplaces to withstand.

  • Be sure that all ashes have thoroughly cooled before you dispose of them. Put ashes in a lidded metal container to prevent a possible fire and provide a sturdy place to store them. Ashes make good fertilizer in gardens, flowerbeds, etc.

  • Be sure the fire is out completely before retiring for the evening.

    Jim Williams was a member of several volunterr fire departments over a 30 year peroid serving as chief of department for 11 years. I was a member of the National Fire Protection Association, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and Texas State Fireman's and Fire Marshal's Association.