Buying Guide for Fire Preparation and Aftermath

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

When conditions are right, a fire can quickly spread out of control. Flames and smoke pose a serious risk to you and other household members, and the damage to your home and possessions can be severe.

Unfortunately, fires are one of the most common disasters to strike homeowners, and they are more often fatal than other disastrous events such as floods. Below, you’ll find information on how to avoid fires in and around your home, how to prepare for this type of disaster, and what to do if a fire starts in your home.

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The ishonest team put together the information in this guide to help keep you and your family safe and well-prepared in the event of a fire-related emergency. While nothing can fully prepare you for the potentially devastating effects of a fire, a bit of knowledge will go a long way toward helping you protect yourself from the worst.

Fire hazards and causes

There are numerous ways that a fire might start. Paying attention to possible hazards can help you prevent a disaster from occurring.

Cooking-related fires: These types of fires are common. To minimize the risk of a kitchen fire, keep kitchen surfaces – such as your stove and range hood – clean. Grease and grime can cause a small fire to grow rapidly. In addition, don’t leave food on the stove or in the oven unattended. Set a timer to remind yourself to check your food. Also bear in mind that young children should never be left unsupervised in the kitchen.

Heater fires: A space heater can keep a room nice and toasty, but an unattended space heater could cause a fire. Nearby drapes, piles of clothing, or other items could serve as kindling in a bad situation. Read all of the directions before operating a space heater, and never leave it running when you’re not there.

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Electrical fires: Discard all broken or damaged power cords, and use appliances and electronics as directed. Avoid overloading power strips in your home. And if you’re going to use an electric blanket, consider one with an automatic shut-off so it won’t be running at night while you’re sleeping.

Chimney fires: Keep your chimney clean. If you have a fireplace, keep a screen in front of it to prevent sparks from flying and coming into contact with flammable fabrics and materials.

Dryer fires: Clean the lint trap of your dryer on a regular basis. Neglected lint traps are a frequent cause of laundry room fires, as lint is highly flammable and could ignite in the dryer heat. Don’t leave the dryer on if you’re leaving your home or going to sleep; stay vigilant while the appliance is running.

Degrees of fire damage

Fire damage can range from minor to major. Here’s what each level of damage may entail.

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Minor fire damage: Smoke contamination is limited and structural damage minimal with minor fire damage. You will likely need to repaint parts of your home.

Moderate fire damage: This level of damage often includes some degree of smoke contamination and damage from flames. A thorough cleaning is required to eradicate lingering odors caused by smoke infiltration.

Fire prevention items

Fire prevention is key, and there are several critical items that can help you prevent a fire and the resultant damage.

Smoke detector: Your home should have a smoke detector near the kitchen and around every bedroom or sleeping area. Keep backup batteries on hand in the event that your smoke detector runs out of juice. Smoke detectors should be checked regularly to make sure they’re working as intended. It’s recommended that homeowners test their alarms once a month.

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Fire extinguisher: A fire extinguisher is another critical safety item. Make sure you and your family are well-versed in how to use this item and that it can easily be accessed in the event of a fire or other emergency. A fire extinguisher should be housed in or near the kitchen area of your home.

Fireproof safe: In the event of a fire, you shouldn’t have to worry about your valuables and important documents. Keep these items in a fireproof safe, and include copies of your IDs, insurance papers, and bank documents in an emergency kit.

Make sure all prevention-related supplies are within easy reach and that everyone in the home knows where they are. Your emergency supply kit (see below) should be readily available if and when an incident occurs. Don’t lock it in a cabinet or keep it on a hard-to-reach shelf.

Creating an emergency supply kit

Anyone who lives in a home or apartment should have an emergency supply kit at the ready. Here’s what to include in a basic emergency kit.

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Specialized supplies for children or special needs individuals (e.g., baby formula, medicines, etc.)

Water (a gallon per day for each person)

Three-day non-perishable food supply (at minimum)

Radio

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Flashlight

Mask or old t-shirt for air filtration

Extra batteries

First-aid kit

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Tools such as pliers to shut off water or gas supply

Can opener to open non-perishable food items

Wet wipes for sanitation

If you live in a cold climate, include the following for each household member.

    CoatShirt and pantsWarm boots or shoesHatMittens or glovesBlanket or sleeping bag
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Coat

Shirt and pants

Warm boots or shoes

Hat

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Mittens or gloves

Blanket or sleeping bag

Other supplies that may be useful to include in your supply kit include the following.

Rain protection (e.g., poncho)

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Tent

Compass

Matches or lighter (sealed in plastic to protect from water)

Flare gun

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Writing tools and paper

Feminine supplies

And, of course, don’t forget your pets. Include food, water, and any other necessary supplies for them as well.

What to do during a fire

No one wants to imagine a scenario in which they have to escape a burning house. Nevertheless, mentally visualizing what you would do in the event of disaster can help you survive a fire.

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Avoid inhaling smoke. Cover your mouth and crawl low to the ground while making your way to an exit.

Avoid opening a door that feels warm to the touch.

If you are trapped because of flames, close the door of the room you’re in (if possible) and get to the nearest window to signal for help.

If you are physically capable and cannot find a safe door exit, escape via a window by lowering yourself as close to the ground as possible before letting go.

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Get out as fast as you can. The quicker you make your exit, the higher your chance of survival.

As soon as you’ve escaped, call 911 or ask someone else to do so.

Do not go back inside the building.

Fire exit strategies

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Have multiple exit strategies in place, and go over this plan with your family and other occupants. Establish a meeting area outside the home that’s easily recognizable and permanent, like a large tree. If someone in your residence has limited mobility, make sure to assign a household member to help them exit the premises. Practice escaping the home via different exits. Remember that you may have to crawl to an exit because of smoke and limited visibility.

What to do after a fire

After a fire, your top priority should be the health and safety of you and your family. Seek medical attention. Flames aren’t the only dangerous aspect of fire. Smoke can cause damage to your throat and lungs.

Once you’ve been cleared by medical personnel, remember that it may not be safe to return to or stay in your home. Fire officials will let you know whether it’s safe to do so. Once emergency crews have left, however, the property becomes your responsibility again – regardless of whether it’s safe to stay inside or not.

Have gas, electrical, water, and phone lines inspected since they may have been damaged during the fire. You may also need to hire a company to secure your home against vandals if you’ll be staying elsewhere for a time.

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Call your insurance provider. They can help explain next steps and will refer you to fire restoration service professionals. Keep receipts for any repair work done. Take photos of the damage if it’s safe to do so. Don’t throw away anything before you’ve taken an inventory for insurance purposes.

Post-fire, you’ll need to arrange for cleanup of your property. In the case where smoke and heat damage has occurred, deep cleaning will be required. Professionals can also help ascertain whether your home’s air quality is safe. If there is no structural damage, clear the affected areas to help cleanup crews move around your home. Arrange to get your home inspected and cleaned sooner rather than later. Time is of the essence. A delay could result in more significant damage in the long run.

Fire insurance

A fire can wreak havoc on your property and your life. Flames generate heat and afflict your walls, ceilings, floors, and furniture with structural damage. Smoke damage leaves lingering foul odors and creates air quality issues. Having fire insurance can help you to get back on your feet after this kind of tragedy.

Without fire insurance, the costs of cleanup, restoration, and replacing items in your home can add up and quickly become impossible to handle. A good insurance provider will cover these items and also direct you toward trusted providers who will respond promptly to clean up and restore your property. Not sure if you’re covered against fire damage? Call your current insurance provider to find out.

FAQ

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Q. Why is smoke so dangerous during a fire?

A. Smoke is particularly dangerous for those who already have breathing problems such as asthma or COPD. Inhaling smoke can damage the esophagus, trachea, and lungs. It can irritate the eyes and reduce visibility during a fire.

Breathing more smoke than air means you’re body and brain are not getting enough oxygen. You need not be exposed to flames to perish in a fire. Being exposed to smoke can be just as dangerous. As fire burns, it consumes oxygen, so the longer you stay in a room or home that’s burning, the less oxygen and more smoke you’ll breathe in. Smoke inhalation is the far more likely killer during a house fire than heat and flames. You’re more likely to suffocate during a fire than you are to burn to death.

Q. What kind of plan should I have in place to ensure my pets are safe during a fire?

A. Assign someone to each household pet when practicing your fire escape plan. Make sure each pet is tagged correctly in the event that they are lost during a fire. In the chaos, there will likely be no time to grab a leash or crate. Some pets hide when they’re scared. Know their hiding spots. Finally, include pet supplies in your emergency kit (food, any medicine prescribed by a vet, and pet- specific first aid items).

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