Winter is the most dangerous season for apartment fires, so be aware of the most common fire traps lurking in your home. Fires are devastating and can cause serious injuries, or worse, and often times they make you homeless. In an apartment building, you’re responsible for taking care of your personal space, but if a fire starts in your apartment, it can spread quickly and damage neighboring apartments, too.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help prevent fires. Take a look around your apartment and see if you find any of the following fire traps and hazards. If so, fix the problem now so you don’t run into a risk bigger, more costly problems in the future.
One of the most common causes of fires is unattended cooking. Whether you forget the boiling pasta pot on the stove or frying chicken in a fryer, you always need to be alert, pay attention, and stay in the kitchen while you’re cooking. Other tips include the following:
- Keep items such as paper towels, dish rags, cardboard, and paper away from the stovetop.
- If you’re cooking food in an oven, check it regularly and make sure you use ovenproof dishes.
- Check all kitchen appliances (stove, oven, toaster, microwave, etc.) regularly to ensure they work properly.
- If a fire starts on the stove, place a lid over the pan or pot and turn the stove off. Never pour water, flour, or anything else on the fire, especially on a grease fire.
- Keep a small fire extinguisher in your kitchen and make sure it works on grease fires.
2. Heating and Cooling
Another common cause of fire is electric space heaters. Help prevent fires caused by electric space heaters by never placing flammable items (curtains, clothing, books, magazines, etc.) near a space heater and by turning the space heater off before you leave your apartment or go to sleep. And never, ever use your stove or oven to heat your apartment!
3. Dryer Lint
Lint in a clothes dryer hose is a surprisingly common cause of house fires. Make sure to remove built-up lint from your dryer before and after you dry clothes to help avoid laundry room fires. Also, you may want to call your landlord or maintenance to check and unclog the dryer hose connected to the back of your dryer periodically.
4. Christmas Lights
With Christmas just passed, your apartment may be still decorated with Christmas lights. Remember to turn these lights off before you go to sleep and before you leave your apartment. Also, if you have a Christmas tree, make sure you turn those lights off as they begin to get hot, especially on a live tree that becomes dry and brittle. In general, the new LED lights stay cool and are a safer alternative for your tree.
5. Overloaded Electrical Outlets
Just because you can plug multiple items into an electrical outlet doesn’t mean it’s safe. If you plug too many items into an electrical outlet, the outlet can become overloaded, which can cause a spark that leads to a fire. If you need to plug in multiple things in or use a power strip.
6. Electrical Cords
If you discover a frayed or damaged electrical cord, immediately unplug the item and have the cord replaced. Also, check all your chargers periodically for damaged cords. Avoid overheating electrical cords by leaving them exposed and never place rugs or blankets over them.
7. Light Bulbs
Always use the correct size light bulb in lamps and light fixtures. Check the size and wattage to ensure you purchase the proper bulb. Lampshades can easily become fire hazards if you use too high wattage bulbs.
8. Electrical Items that are Not in Use
When you’re not using an item, unplug it. From toasters to curling irons and space heaters to phone chargers, items that remain plugged in but not in use can cause a fire. We have all seen the videos of coffee machines that suddenly burst in flames. Simply unplug all small appliances when you’re finished using them to help ensure they doesn’t catch on fire and unplug all chargers when the charge is full.
9. Unattended Candles
Candles are a great, inexpensive way to decorate you apartment and make it smell nice. They can create a romantic atmosphere for your dinner party or date night. Unattended candles, however, are a big fire hazard. If you light a candle, remember these safety tips: stay in the same room and keep an eye on the candle, never leave your apartment with a burning candle, make sure the candle is in a secure holder on a stable surface so it won’t tip over, and keep the candle away from flammable objects like paper, magazines, and curtains. If you have to leave your apartment or you go to bed, always blow the candle out first.
If you smoke, consider smoking outside where there is less risk of fire. If you smoke inside, use an ash tray, never leave smoking materials burning while unattended, and never smoke in bed where you run the risk of falling asleep. Remember the old warning: “When you smoke in bed, the ashes that fall may be yours!”
It’s fun to decorate an apartment, but you must be practical and make sure you don’t cause unnecessary fire hazards. Here are a few tips to remember: keep curtains away from any type of heating device, never place a scarf or any type of material over a lamp or near a heating device, and unplug any string, neon, or other decorative lights before you leave your apartment or go to bed.
12. Fire Places
Fire places are great to provide heat and ambiance to your apartment, but they are also a fire hazard if not properly cared for and used. Before you use your fireplace, confirm with your landlord that both the fireplace and the chimney have been inspected and the chimney swept. Be smart and safe when using a fireplace by removing flammable object from near the fire place, only lighting a fire when you are alert and attentive, and keeping an eye on the fire.
13. Flammable Substances
Don’t store any flammable substances in your apartment. These items may not spark, but they can ignite and cause a major disaster.
14. Hair dryers
Hair dryers? Yes, hair dryers can catch fire if the vents have become clogged with hair and dust. Usually the fire happens when you are holding the dryer, so you can quickly unplug it and extinguish the flames. Just make sure never to use water on a plugged-in appliance. To prevent fires, every few months, clean out any hair or dust from the vent in the back of the dryer.
Fire Prevention Tools: Smoke Detector, Carbon Monoxide Detector, and Fire Extinguisher
These items are your most important fire prevention tools. Replace batteries on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors once a year, and test them each month to be sure they work properly. In many localities it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide and maintain your fire and smoke detectors. If that is not the case where you live, it won’t cost you much to buy a smoke detector, a carbon monoxide detector, or a fire extinguisher. They may save your property or even life one day.
Finally, Get Renter’s Insurance
You may be the most fire prevention aware renter ever, but you are living in a building with other tenants who may daily do all the things we just warned you not to do. Get renter’s insurance and if the worst happens, at least you’ll get compensated for your losses.