How to prevent a house fire?

House on fire.

As a friend, fire cooks our meals, warms our bodies, provides light in the dark and is a source of energy to carry us long distances.

Yes, it does a host of jobs to provide necessities or to make our lives more pleasant.

But, on the other hand, it can destroy billions of dollars’ worth of property and denude whole forests of their greenery.

Fire can be a deadly foe.

Certainly anything with such potential to provide benefits or cause great harm is worthy of consideration so that we may continue to call it our “friend.”

Whether fire is our friend or foe depends a lot on the way we treat it and our having a basic knowledge of its causes.

Fire is caused naturally by means of lightning.

Lava from volcanoes is another source of fire.

Whether our early ancestors imitated natural sources or were given divine knowledge of how to produce fire, it has been an integral part of human’s life for many years.

What is fire?

Although humans had been using fire for thousands of years, its true nature was not known until experiments by Antoine Lavoisier and others in the 1700’s showed that fire marks a chemical reaction involving oxygen.

They proved that oxygen is actually added during the burning process, although others before that had thought that fire resulted from the release of an imaginary substance called “phlogiston.”

Fire is defined as the heat and light that come from burning substances.

In describing the basic essentials for fire, many now prefer to use a word referring to something that has four faces.

So they speak of the “fire tetrahedron.”

In other words, besides the original “fire triangle” of fuel, heat and oxygen, they add the fourth essential of chemical reaction.

It is necessary for us to understand the part each of these plays in producing fire so that we can put it to use in either preventing or extinguishing unwanted fires.

For example, to put out a grease fire on the stove, turn off the stove (removing the heat) and cover with a lid (removing the oxygen that feeds the fire).

To get a better idea of what causes fire, let’s take a look at these four basic elements.


Given the right circumstances, most substances will burn or combine with oxygen in combustion, a chemical process that liberates heat.

(Remember that fire is the heat and light resulting from combustion.)

However, the temperature at which things will burn, called the ignition point or kindling point, varies according to the substance.

For example, the kindling point of film, nitrocellulose, is only 279 degrees Fahrenheit (137 degrees Celsius).

For wool it is 401 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) and for newsprint 446 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius).


Generally, heat is provided from an outside source, such as a match or spark, and then the fire produces enough of its own heat to be self-supporting.

If we reduce the temperature of a burning substance below its kindling point, the fire will go out.

Even though our breath contains fire-sustaining oxygen, blowing on a burning match carries away the heat faster than it is being produced, and the fire goes out.

Sometimes enough heat is generated within substances, such as in a pile of oily rags, to cause them to burst into flames.

This is called spontaneous combustion.

Certain bacteria in moist hay can cause the temperature to rise rapidly, causing the hay to burn, leading to a loss of valuable feed, and possibly storage facilities and livestock.

These sources of heat cannot be ignored when considering fire prevention and safety.


Although there are other chemicals that can combine with fuels to produce heat, oxygen is the most common.

The need for oxygen to sustain a fire is shown by the fact that fuels heated in a vacuum will not burn.


There are certain conditions under which fuels will not produce a flame, even though fuel, heat and oxygen are present.

For example, if the percentage of natural gas in air is not between about 4 percent and 15 percent, no flame will be produced.

The burning process can be illustrated by an examination of the flame of a candle.

The wax does not burn directly, but, rather, gas given off by the heated wax travels up the wick and burns.

Prove this by blowing out a candle that has been burning for some time.

Then pass a lighted match through the trail of smoke rising from the wick.

A flame will travel down the smoke to the wick and relight the candle.

There are three areas in the flame:

(1) the dark inner area of no combustion (2) an intermediate layer of incomplete combustion, composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that gradually work their way to (3) the outside cone of complete combustion."

Keeping in mind the essentials for fire, would it not be a good idea to take a look around your home or place of work to see if you may not be giving destructive fire a place to start?

Three steps to avoid catastrophe

While checking, bear in mind that no two fires are exactly alike.

So it is not possible to cover all circumstances.

We need to consider some places where fire is most likely to start so as to help all in our families to be conscious of fire safety.

Generally speaking, three steps are necessary to help us avoid the catastrophe of a fire in our home.

They are:

(1) Practice good housekeeping; (2) develop safe habits (3) plan ahead."

Checking the kitchen area

The kitchen is the most dangerous place in the house.

Here is where most home fires start.

The stove and other appliances are especially threatening.

So, special care must be taken to keep them in good repair and to use them safely.

Good housekeeping is vital.

Are there combustible materials above the stove that could catch fire from rising heat or flames?

Curtains blown over a stove can suddenly turn the whole kitchen into the scene of a holocaust.

Good housekeeping includes keeping the stove and surrounding areas grease free.

With heat and oxygen already present, grease can provide the fuel for an unwanted fire.

Develop safe habits

About 20 percent of all fire fatalities involve children under five years of age; so develop safe habits to protect them from fire.

Turn all pot handles so they do not stick out beyond the stove where little children could reach them.

Do not risk tragedy by storing a cookie jar above the stove.

Fire is not a plaything and it is never too early to teach children respect for fire.

Since most home fires start in the kitchen, many fire prevention authorities recommend that each household keep within the kitchen area a dry-chemical extinguisher.

One of a 2 1/2-pound (1-kilogram) capacity will do.

It should be a multi-purpose “ABC” type, the kind that is effective on all classes of fires, such as (A) paper, wood, drapes, and so forth; (B) flammable liquids, such as grease, paint, solvents, and so forth; (C) live electrical equipment, such as faulty wires, frayed electrical cords, and so forth."

Each member of the family should be familiar with how to use the extinguisher.

The prudent time to read the instructions and to learn how to operate a fire extinguisher is NOT at the moment of a fire emergency.

If a kitchen fire cannot readily be extinguished, everyone in your household should leave the building first.

Then, from a safe location, summon the fire department.

Are appliances such as refrigerators, toasters and ovens in good repair?

Do you use only fuses of the recommended size?

If a pan of grease catches fire, never try to carry it out of the house or to put it out with water; these actions will only make matters worse. 

First, turn off the heat.

Then try to smother the flame with a lid, being careful not to burn yourself and watching that your clothing does not get too close to the fire. 

If that does not work and you do not have a fire extinguisher, then sprinkle baking soda over the grease fire.

Keeping other areas safe

In the other areas of the house or apartment, the heater is probably the biggest culprit in starting home fires.

Whether you have central or room heat, care must be given to keeping the heater in good repair, and caution must be exercised in its use.

Do you have the furnace—also flue pipes, chimneys, and areas around the furnace—checked and cleaned regularly by a qualified repairman?

Room heaters are especially dangerous because they often have an open flame and must have adequate clearance from walls and combustible materials.

Position of the heater is important because it may be easily bumped or turned over.

It is also wise to turn off portable heaters before going to bed.

In many countries where fire causes an average of 30 deaths and injuries every day, portable heaters are used quite extensively.

To warn of their danger, arrangements are made in most communities for volunteers to walk through the streets at a set time each night, ringing a bell or beating wooden sticks.

In some areas, firemen drive the fire truck up and down the streets, blowing the siren and making announcements to turn off heaters.

No doubt a constant community awareness of the dangers of fire helps to reduce the tragic loss due to home fires each year.

In addition to heaters, there are other items in the home that need to be considered.

For example, the smoking habit and the careless use of matches cause about 25 percent of all fires of known origin, resulting in 200,000 fires and 1,200 deaths in the United States alone yearly.

Also, heaters generates much heat, and if sufficient ventilation is not provided to disperse the heat, it can accumulate and ignite any nearby combustibles.

If wires are frayed, give them immediate attention.

If fire does strike and someone’s clothing catches fire, do not let the victim run; this only fans the flame and makes it burn faster.

Throw the victim to the ground, and roll him in a coat, rug or blanket to smother the fire.

Safe habits in storage areas

Do you have any storage areas, such as a basement, a garage or a closet in your home?

Vapors from paint thinners, gasoline and other flammable liquids in closed areas can be a cause of a dangerous explosion and fire.

Are these liquids all stored in closed, metal containers?

When using these items, is the area well ventilated?

Rubbish or rags piled up in a storage area can burst into flames by spontaneous combustion.

Good housekeeping will remove this danger.

Plan ahead

Firemen recommend that each family plan ahead for a family fire escape route.

It is too late once fire strikes.

Plan a first route of escape and an alternate route in case the first one is blocked.

Then practice it so that all are familiar with what they should do.

Have a prearranged meeting place outside so that all will know when everyone is out of the house.

People have died because they ran back into burning homes to save children who were already safely outside.

Once everyone is out, do not return to try to save valuables.

This could cost you your life.

For thousands of years, the human family has benefited from the gift of fire.

However, it can turn on us as a merciless foe.

It is for our own good and that of our families if we have respect for the potential power in fire and cultivate safe habits in its use.

Will fire continue to be your friendly servant, or will it turn on you as a deadly foe?

This depends much on how you treat it.