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Common causes of fires

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Whether you have a kitchen in your workplace or home, outfit it with safety equipment vigilantly; FEMA reports that there were an estimated 156,500 kitchen fires in 2002, with hundreds of fatalities, and millions in property loss.

If you’ve never seen a house fire, take our word for it — they move quickly. It can take as little as thirty seconds for a spark from a smoldering cigarette butt to turn an otherwise perfectly safe house into an inferno. While we’re all taught from a very young age to “stop, drop and roll,” very few private citizens take much note of fire safety in the home. The rate of death by fire has dropped by about 90% since 1918, but further improvement has proved difficult and the remaining 10% has stayed roughly steady for several decades, as Freakonomics noted — partly due to the flammability of increasingly common synthetic substances, but also because the rarity of death by fire in itself breeds complacence.

  • We might expect that drowsy smokers are the most frequent fire victims, but the top cause of house fires is something nearly everyone does: cooking. Oil fires associated with fried foods are particularly dangerous because pouring water over them makes them worse — something many people don’t seem to know. These fires are actually less likely to prove fatal than some other varieties — because these fires rarely happen when everyone’s asleep. Fire is a lot harder to miss when the pan in your hand is what’s burning!
  • Even though house fires are the most frequent cause of house fires, the most common cause of house fire deathsis smoking, and according to the NFPA , it has been for decades. Smokers who smoke in bed or on couches may tend to fall asleep with a lit cigarette , resulting in a combustible situation.
  • Heating equipment like fireplaces and space heaters have proved to be the second most common cause of home fire death — and central heating is far less likely to result in fatal fires than electrical or combustion heat.

Workplace fires are far less common than house fires, and surprisingly, of 1.3 million serious fires that occur in the U.S. each year, only 20% of them happen on the job. These fires can nonetheless result in catastrophic loss of life, though, and roughly 90 civilians (i.e., non-firefighters) perish per year in workplace accidents. Of these accidents, most are electrical fires — so always make certain your workplace’s wiring is sufficient for your needs, and that your workplace’s equipment is in good working condition, in accordance with OSHA regulations.

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