4 frequent causes of house fires

Homme qui fait la cuisine

Returning home after a fire can be devastating: a house burned to the ground, charred remains of belongings, soot on some walls still standing. Banish the thought. There are ways to help prevent the leading causes of house fires, so you never have to endure the aftermath.

Here is a reminder of four risks of fire hazard in your home, with some sound advice to stay safe. With your vigilance and home insurance, you can rest easy!

Residential fires: cooking and smoking among leading causes

Statistics Canada conducted a study on fire  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab). over 10 years and in several provinces.

As an example, in the 19,062 claims analyzed in 2014, 74% were in homes. Of these residential fires, 60% were caused by incidents involving smoking or cooking and kitchen appliances . These scenarios occur every year and often result in home insurance claims.

1. Hot cooking oils

Kitchen fires are the leading cause of home fire injuries  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab).. Grease and hot oils used for frying account for many of these fires: oil will catch fire if heated up too quickly or if it stays hot for too long.

Not ready to give up making home-made donuts, fish 'n chips or churros? Use an electronic fryer with an adjustable thermostat or a hot air fryer. A thermostatically-controlled electric skillet or a deep fryer is the safest way to go. Although it isn't without some risk, it's much safer than using a pan or pot. Here are some tips on how to use a deep fryer:

  • Place the unit on a stable surface and do not move it while it's on.
  • Find out the ideal frying temperature for the oil you’re using (olive, canola, peanut, etc.) and don't let it reach its smoke point  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab)., i.e. the point where smoke starts to appear. If this happens, reduce the temperature immediately.
  • Once the oil has reached the right temperature, slowly dip the foods into the fryer.
  • Never leave food unattended.
  • Turn off the fryer as soon as you're finished and wait for it to cool before cleaning.

If you don't have a deep fryer, but still want to fry food in a pot or pan...

  • Make sure the burner is off before adding oil.
  • Use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature; do not let it reach the smoking point.

No oil on the fire... no water on the oil

If oil ignites in the pan, smother the fire with a tight-fitting lid, or use a fire extinguisher.

Never try to extinguish an oil fire with water: it fuels the flames and can spread them!

What if you get a call or the doorbell rings while you're cooking? Turn off the oven or fryer before answering. Your cooking needs your watchful eye.

2. Smoking

If there are any smokers living under your roof, your home insurance will likely cost you more because of the increased risk of fire. The risk is real; every year, smoking-related incidents top the list of claims. In Ontario, for instance, smoking is the leading cause of deadly house fires  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab)..

As is often the case, prevention starts with safe habits:

  • Avoid smoking in bed. Your mattress is likely flammable, as is your bedding.
  • If you’ve had a few drinks or took sleep-inducing medication, you may want to err on the safe side and wait before you light up.
  • Check your furniture (e.g. chair cushions, couches, etc.) regularly for any fallen ashes or cinders.

Did you know? It can take three or four hours before cinders ignite.

  • Choose a deep stable ashtray, and never don't leave a lit cigarette unattended.
  • Flowerpots or flowerbeds are dangerous ashtrays. These contain flammable materials, making them a hazardous place to dispose of cigarette butts or ashes.
  • Never throw ashes and cigarette butts in the garbage, unless you wet them first.
  • Ideally, put them in a metal container kept outside.

3. Fireplace ashes

Hot ashes are an underestimated fire-hazard in homes. Not only can poor management of ashes start a fire  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab)., but it also causes poisoning. They give off carbon monoxide, a gas that is dangerous to you, your loved ones and even pets.

To limit the risk of fire, clean your fireplace regularly depending on how often you use it:

  • Remove the ashes with a steel fireplace shovel. Never vacuum the ashes, as fine particles can clog the filter.
  • Place them in a metal container with a lid and raised bottom.

Did you know? Fireplace ashes can stay hot for up to 72 hours.

  • Place the container outside with the lid closed to preserve the air quality in your home and reduce risk.
  • Install it on a non-combustible outdoor surface, at least one metre away from anything that could catch fire: walls, shed, barbecue, carport, shrubs, etc.
  • After several days, stir the ashes to make sure they've cooled down. Don’t dispose of them until they’ve stopped emitting smoke or heat.
  • Place cold ashes in a compost bin or in the trash.

4. Extension cords

Electrical fires have a variety of causes. However, many can be prevented by paying attention to how you use extension cords as well as their condition.

Here’s how:

Did you know? Extension cords should be used as a temporary solution. Rather than having them permanently plugged in, it's best to have more electrical outlets installed.

  • Do not roll up a plugged-in extension cord. The heat generated in the core of the coil can damage the protective sheath and cause an arc (visible flow of electrical current).
  • Do not hang an extension cord or cable on a hook or nail. Use fasteners designed for this purpose.
  • Use extension cords that are long enough so you never have to connect more than one together.
  • Leave them in plain sight and not buried under rugs or crushed behind furniture.
  • Never paint cables and extension cords: painting dries out their protective sheaths.
  • Inspect them from time to time: if they get hot, or if the sheath is cracked, replace them. Don't try a home repair! You can certainly find something else to tinker with around the house.
  • Avoid overloading: don't plug too many appliances into the same outlet and beware of the hazards created by multiple outlets. Only low-power devices (for example, a lamp with a 40 W bulb) should be plugged in.

Home insurance and safe habits: the winning prevention duo

As you may have noticed, home fires are often caused by substances or objects made more dangerous by human error: forgetfulness, distraction, negligence...

With our advice, your vigilance and a solid home insurance policy, you'll steer clear of hazards and help keep your home safe. That way you can enjoy best it has to offer, comfort and security.