Fire Prevention Tips

October 2, 2013

Burnt stove

This was the kitchen in my basement suite after our tenant's deep-fried chicken wings went catastrophically wrong. The fire destroyed the basement, consuming the furniture, eating away the walls, even melting the plastic tub surround in the bathroom.

In hindsight, we could have prevented the fire, or at least minimized the damage... if only we'd had a proper plan.

Eleven months out of the house and $300,000 later, I urge you to look at your own home in terms of how to prevent fires, and how to escape if fire happens.

Here are the mistakes we made:

  • We didn't know our tenant was deep-frying. Next time, "no deep-frying" will be in the lease agreement.
  • Instead of smothering the fire with a lid, the tenant sprayed burning oil everywhere with the fire extinguisher. Next time, we'll do some fire education with renters.
  • Once there was a fire, nobody closed the windows and doors upstairs. Toxic smoke vented through the whole house destroying appliances, cabinetry and flooring upstairs.
  • Each of the people in the house at the time thought the other had called 911.
A former basement wall after a house fire Melted bathtub surround after a house fire Toxic smoke flows through vents in house fire
A fire-eaten basement wall. Melted tub surround Superheated smoke gets upstairs

We were blessed. No one was hurt, the house was fire resistant, the fire department did a great job and we had replacement insurance. But we look back and understand how explosively a kitchen fire spreads, and how blind panic takes over in its presence.

You have as little as three minutes to escape from a house fire once you hear the piercing squeal of the smoke alarm. About thirty years ago, it was estimated that you had about 17 minutes, but with all the synthetics used in homes now, a fire will grow much faster and release more-toxic smoke than a fire in the 1980s, cutting your chances of escape and ensuring that smoke damage will destroy what the fire doesn't.

Here's a list of the simplest and smartest things you can do to make your home fire-safe. It was provided by Fire Chief D. Spence of the Maple Ridge Fire Department:

  1. Test all the smoke alarms in your residence to make sure they are working. You should have one alarm located on every level of your home and outside the sleeping areas. You can recycle used or expired smoke and carbon monoxide alarms at an AlarmRecycle depot near you.
  2. Prepare and practise a fire escape plan for your family; every member of your family should know what to do when fire strikes and where to meet. It is not uncommon for parents to risk their lives searching for children who are already out of the house.
  3. Never leave your cooking unattended and made sure you have a tight-fitting lid close by when you are cooking with oil. Oil and grease fires burn very fast and hot and can cause serious burns if you try to move them or put water on them.
  4. Store all flammables like gasoline or propane outside your home.
  5. Keep all combustible materials well away from the front of furnaces and hot water tanks.
  6. Never leave candles unattended.

For dozens more fire prevention tips, take this interactive prevention, detection and escape drill from the Government of Alberta. Please.

Fire prevention detection and escape tips

As an writer and editor, Elizabeth spends every day immersed in real estate news and opinion so she can deliver fresh, relevant articles to our visitors. She comes from a varied background in Internet marketing, book publishing, multimedia writing and radio, but what prepared her best for this position is her experience as a renter, seller and buyer in the Vancouver real estate market.
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