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It’s the Little Things That Make a Difference in Fire Safety

September 2, 2011

Review of Fire District 9 structure fire data reveals no single cause that we can target with prevention measures (that would be much easier).  Instead, most fire causes tend to fall into two categories:  things people do that they probably should not do, and things people don’t do that they should.  It all seems to come down to the ‘little things’ that we either shouldn’t do, or little things we could have done that would have prevented a fire.

Take a look at today’s photo brought back recently by investigators.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one speaks volumes about the ‘little things’ we can all do to keep our homes intact.

This is not where the fire originated.  The fire started in another room.  However, we’re reasonably confident this would have been the start of a fire eventually.  We fire prevention people see a number of problems here.

  1. To begin with the ash tray has not been emptied in a while.  The paper on cigarette butts will burn.  When an ash tray gets that full of paper, it becomes an accumulation of fuel.  Burn marks on the left side and back of the box indicate these cigarette butts are being placed here while still hot.
  1. Secondly, the ash tray is a cardboard box.  Putting cigarette butts into a combustible container is just asking for a fire.  When you combine the amount of paper with the combustible container, you’re amping up the risk level.  We worked in an apartment where the occupant used a plastic juice jug to hold a gallon of cigarette butts on the wooden deck.  The paper caught fire, the plastic melted, the deck ignited and the apartment was destroyed.
  1. But wait!  Don’t order yet, there’s more.  If you look in the background you see more fuel.  I’m not talking about all of the paper stored on the book shelf.  In the center behind the Camel box you may notice another box laying on edge.  That’s a box of wooden kitchen matches right next to the combustible ash tray.
  1. You’re not done yet.  Anyone notice the yellow plastic container next to the matchbox?  It’s lighter fluid; a flammable liquid specifically manufactured and marketed to start fire.

To recap, ignition sources (hot cigarette butts) are being placed next to fuel (cardboard box, paper, matches, and flammable liquid) and it appears this is going on fairly regularly.  Like I said, this was not the origin of the fire, but it probably would have been eventually.  Did this person want to burn down the house?  No!  These ‘little things’ just escaped notice.

So what is the collection of ‘little things’ that could prevent this from burning down the house?

  1. Empty ash trays often.  Make sure the contents are cold, get them wet, then dispose of them.
  2. Always use non-combustible ash trays.  Glass or ceramic are the best materials as they insulate the heat rather than conducting it to surrounding materials.
  3. Keep ash trays away from combustible fuels.  Can’t tell you how often we find them tucked under the front edge of the sofa.
  4. Keep the matches and lighters (and lighter fluid) up out of kids’ reach and away from potential ignition sources.

Remember, it’s these ‘little things’ that will keep your house standing and your family safe.

I would rather not have to come to your house to take this picture.

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From → Fire Prevention

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