6 Leading Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them


Unless you have ever experienced a house fire, there is no way to understand just how severely this can impact literally every area of your life. According to FEMA, more than 3,000 people in the United States die from fires each and every year and in 2022 alone there were almost 400,000 housefires as well. These are all according to those same statistics gathered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, yet it should be said that not all of those house fires resulted in total loss. Even so, those numbers should tell you just how serious a problem fires can be and why you should understand what the leading causes are and how to prevent them.

1. Electrical Devices, Systems and Wiring

Some of the leading causes of house fires are caused by faulty electrical devices, systems and wiring. Sometimes it can be the result of inferior installations and other times the equipment itself is faulty. Shorts in wiring can be a huge issue as well, and many of the fires caused by these things happen in older homes because, over time, everything tends to wear out. 

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In fact, this guide from Beattie HS can detail the leading causes of electrical fires in the home and how to prevent them. However, it should be said right off the bat that any time you are dealing with any kind of electrical wiring, including circuit breakers and old-fashioned fuse boxes, you should only contract the services of a licensed electrician. The sheer number of house fires caused by faulty electrical devices, systems and wiring are proof positive that this is the case.

2. Negligent Smoking Indoors

We tend to think that house fires caused by smokers are the result of falling asleep in bed or on the sofa with a lit cigarette. While this is true some of the time, it is not always the case. There are times when we are happily puffing away at a cigarette and our attention is needed elsewhere. We unthinkingly set the cigarette in the ashtray, wander away for just a moment and suddenly, from the next room, we smell smoke. 

It only takes a second for an ember from a lit cigarette to catch fire to whatever happens to be in the ashtray. Or, worse yet, what happens when the cigarette burns down far enough for the still lit butt to roll out of the ashtray and onto the table? The point is that the best way to avoid fires from smoking is to never smoke in bed (or on the sofa!) and never leave a lit cigarette unattended.

3. Candles Left Unattended

The same things can be said of candles. Altogether too often we light them and leave them unattended. There are times when we place even a small votive light on a plate because we simply don’t have an appropriate candle-safe dish to place them in. It only takes one spark to catch fire to something nearby that is flammable and if not monitored, the house can quickly go ablaze.

4. Lightning Strikes – Direct or Indirect

The reason lightning can be responsible for setting your home ablaze is because if you experience a direct hit, it sends surges through all your electrical wiring and into everything wired and connected to your electrical system. This includes all appliances, electronics and really, anything that is plugged in. A surge can send a shock wave resulting in fire and that’s something that is a bigger problem in some areas of the country than others. 

Even so, just one rogue storm can result in fires, notwithstanding when it strikes those power lines outside the home, those indirect strikes. There really isn’t much you can do other than to make sure you have surge protectors installed in the home, especially to those devices that are most apt to be set ablaze.

5. Faulty or Worn Appliances and Improper Use

As mentioned above, everything has an expected life span and appliances are no different. Literally any appliance in the home, small or large, can start a house fire under certain conditions. Sometimes they are old and short out, and other times they are used improperly. For example, a person using a hair blower or curling iron can cause a fire if they place them down on a flammable surface without turning them off. This has happened, believe it or not, so along with worn or faulty appliances, improper use can account for setting a house on fire as well.

6. Unattended Kids and Matches or Lighters

Since time immemorial we have known that kids and flames just do not work well together. This isn’t to say that it is irresponsible parenting when a child gets their hands on matches or a lighter. Kids are kids and they can snatch something off a table in the blink of an eye, all the while walking hand in hand with an adult. It has happened! However, and with that said, if you have any matches or lighters in the home, which most people do, keep them out of reach of kids. 

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If you are a smoker, for example, keep your lighter on your person at all times, or tucked away high enough that you’d notice them pulling a chair to reach it! This really isn’t anything to joke about because not only will your house go up in flames, but the child can be critically burned as well. The bottom line is that it just pays to be extra cautious with kids in the home.

An Ounce of Prevention

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Unfortunately, in terms of a house fire, sometimes there is no cure! Prevention is what it takes and at this point, perhaps it should be mentioned that burning outdoors can set your house on fire as well. This is prevalent in drought-stricken areas of the Western states where altogether too many structural fires are caused by burning debris on days when it is forbidden by the local fire authorities

In other words, most often other than an act of nature, there are things you can do to prevent your house going up in flames. Let “an ounce of prevention” be your mantra and many of those fires can be avoided.

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