Tips for preventing and surviving a home fire

By Vanessa Racine, social media coordinator
Home fires can happen anytime and anywhere but are most likely to occur during winter in Canada. According to the Commissariat aux incendies de la Ville de Québec, 4 in 10 fatal home fires occur between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., when the household is asleep.
At 3:30 a.m., Mark Pettitt of Saskatchewan woke to a neighbour banging loudly on his front door. Fortunately, the neighbour’s dog alerted to the smoke and flames, waking the neighbour who quickly called 9-1-1 and then rushed to get Mark and his family safely out of the house.
“They woke us up which gave us extra time to get out and the fire department arrived quickly because they had called 9-1-1 right away,” said Mark. “You always think things happen to other people, but everyone is other people. We are other people.”
A Manitoba family also recently encountered a home fire, this time at midnight. Fortunately, Katlin St. Germain serves on the St. Rose du Lac Fire Department and knew what to do when a fire started from an old outlet in her daughters’ bedroom.
“Smoke was billowing down the hallway from the girls’ room. My fiancée went to open the door, but I stopped him. I was worried about the backdraft,” said Katlin. 
A mixture of luck and training helped these families weather their home fires – would you know what to do if it happened to you?
These tips will help you know what to do in a home fire

A member of the Red Cross standing by a house fireInspect your smoke detectors monthly. Make sure that you have smoke detectors on every floor. Clear any dust that could block the smoke sensor. Test them once a month and replace the batteries twice a year at the time change (in March and November). Smoke alarms that beep may not be enough to keep you safe. If you take sleeping pills or are hearing impaired, install an alarm system with strobe lights and a vibrating pad for under your pillow.

Never leave anything burning unattended – this includes things like stoves, candles and fireplaces.

Carbon monoxide, which you can’t smell, is a leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths. Install a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector, or a wired one with battery back-up, where you can easily hear the alarm and check the batteries at least twice a year.

Have your electrical and fuel-burning appliances installed, repaired and serviced by a qualified technician.

If you need to use a portable generator during a power outage, keep it outdoors and follow all safety instructions provided by the manufacturer. 

Make an evacuation plan. Practice your evacuation plan with all members of your household. If you rent your home, practice your evacuation plan with your landlord and the other tenants in the building as well. If you live in a high-rise, know how to evacuate the building and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

How to prevent common causes of house fires

From defective equipment to smoking materials and decorations, learn about common causes of fires and how to prevent them.

When a pot or pan overheats or splatters grease, it can ignite within seconds. Always stay in the kitchen while cooking. If you have to leave the room for any amount of time, turn off the stove. Keep flammable items (like oven mitts, dish towels, paper towels) away from heat sources. And most importantly, never pour water on the flames.

Heating equipment
Clean your chimney annually. Keep flammable items at least a metre away from heat sources such as space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves. Check your smoke alarm monthly and install a carbon monoxide detector to alert you to deadly gas in your home.

Candles and decorations
Keep candles in holders away from combustible materials and out of reach of children and pets. Never leave lit candles unattended. Most home fires happen during the holidays and winter months. Christmas trees can get very dry and catch fire quickly. Make sure to water your tree regularly and use certified decorative lights.

Flammable liquids
Flammable liquids — fuels, solvents, strippers, thinners, adhesives, paints, and other materials — can ignite or explode if stored improperly. The vapours can easily ignite at relatively low temperatures or from weak ignition sources. Don’t store flammable liquids near a heat source, and ideally, keep them outside the home in a cool ventilated area in approved containers.

Cords and electrical equipment
Make sure that:
  • Your electrical appliances don’t have frayed cords;
  • You aren’t using an extension cord improperly.
  • Also be careful when tackling a do-it-yourself electrical project; many fires are caused by improper installation, so it’s always best to use a licensed electrician.
  • Whenever possible, avoid using extension cords. They are longer and less robust than regular cords, so they overheat more easily. Don’t overload power outlets.
To learn more, download the Red Cross Guide to Home Fire Recovery.

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