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What Are the Five Most Common Causes of House Fires?

Updated April 07, 2017

According to the National Fire Protection Agency's research division, more than 3,500 Americans die and another 18,000 are injured in house fires each year, with financial losses in the billions of dollars. Most house fires or injuries are easily preventable by keeping a close eye on open flames or heat sources, by checking your home's electrical system on a regular basis and by installing smoke detectors throughout the house.

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Cooking Fires

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, cooking fires are the leading cause of house fires, accounting for approximately 40 per cent of house fires in the U.S. Unattended cooking equipment, such as pots on the stove or food in the oven, was the cause of the majority of these types of fires. Frying causes the highest number of cooking fires, while Thanksgiving is the day of the year with the most instances of cooking fires.

Heating

According to the NFPA, heating fires are the second most common cause of house fires. Heating fires mostly occur in December, January and February, when heating units are turned on for long periods of time. Space heaters, both fixed and portable, are by far the leading causes of heating fires; fires start when the units are used incorrectly or are located too close to flammable materials.

Cigarettes

Smoking is the leading cause of house fire deaths in the U.S., according to the United States Fire Administration. Almost 25 per cent of house fire casualties were due to a fire started by a burning cigarette. Most often, the cigarette ignited a blanket, mattress, clothing or upholstered piece of furniture, often when the smoker falls asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand.

Electrical Fires

Electrical house fires start with either a faulty wiring system in a home or when a resident uses the wrong wattage light bulbs in lamps, causing the bulb to overheat and ignite a lampshade. More than half of electrical fires are a result of old wiring or faulty outlets. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, electrical fires cause 310 deaths per year and more than 1,000 more injuries.

Candle Fires

According to the USFA, candle fires account for more than 15,000 home fires per year, causing 150 deaths and upwards of 1,200 injuries. More candle fires begin in the bedroom than in any other room, and 55 per cent of all candle fires start because the flame or hot wax is too close to a combustible or flammable object. The most candle fires start in December, with Christmas Day the peak day. Falling asleep while a candle burns is a factor in 12 per cent of fires and 26 per cent of deaths.

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About the Author

Nadia Nygaard has been writing and editing since 2005. She is published in "Farm and Ranch Living" and has edited projects as diverse as grant proposals, medical dissertations and tenant law handbooks. She is a graduate of the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts in English and women's studies.

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