Like earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, wildfires won’t give you advance warning before they strike. At most, you might learn about a fire in your area a few days before it threatens your home. Still, fires from natural causes accounted for just 1.6 percent of all residential fires in 2015: Fires caused by cooking, heating and electrical malfunction are much more common.
In other words, household objects you use every day are far more likely to cause a fire than Mother Nature (This Is Us fans know this all too well). Before disaster strikes, take these 28 steps to reduce your risk of both residential fires and wildfires. Stacker surveyed recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Fire Protection Association, American Red Cross, and other experts to compile this list of 28 steps everyone can take to prevent a fire or minimize fire damage. Although you can never be completely prepared for an emergency, following these recommendations will at least increase your household’s fire safety.
Every household should have a solid emergency plan. Talk to your family about how you will receive emergency alerts, what you will do if you need to seek shelter, where you will go if you need to evacuate, and how you will communicate if you’re separated.
An emergency supply kit typically includes enough supplies to allow you to survive for several days without food or water, in addition to go-bags for each member of your family. If your home catches on fire, you might not have time to take your entire emergency kit—but if you keep your go-bags in an easily accessible place, you might be able to grab them on your way out.
Properly installed smoke alarms can reduce your risk of dying in a fire by half. The National Fire Alarm code requires new homes to have interconnected hardwired smoke alarms with backup batteries on every level of the home, outside each sleeping area and inside each bedroom. Existing homes must have smoke alarms on every level and outside each sleeping area, at a minimum.
All the smoke alarms in the world won’t do you any good if they’re not in working order. Just ask the Pearsons from This Is Us. Press the test button on the alarm at least once a month to ensure that it still works.
Fires also create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Any time fuel burns, it produces this colorless, odorless gas. High amounts of carbon monoxide can be poisonous, so it’s especially dangerous in enclosed spaces. Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector close to your bedroom—it’s important that the alarm could wake you up in the middle of the night.
Demonstrate both the smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector for the entire household to make sure that everyone is familiar with the sound of the alarm. That way, if they do ever go off, you won’t waste precious time wondering what that funny noise means.
If a fire starts, you might have two minutes or less to get out of the house. Create a fire escape plan so every member knows exactly what to do. You should know two ways to escape from every room, in case the usual exits are blocked by flames.
Plan timed escape drills twice a year to ensure that every member of your family could escape quickly and easily in case of a fire.
Mom and Dad shouldn’t be the only ones who know what to do in case of emergency. Teach young children when and how to call 911 and make sure they know to provide their name and address to the dispatcher.
It’s always a good idea to learn how to administer first aid. After a fire, you might need to help a family member before emergency responders arrive. Sign up for a first aid class near you to learn the basics.
If your clothes catch fire, you’ll need to follow three simple steps: stop, drop and roll. Rolling on the ground will smother the flames on your clothing so you can continue escaping safely.
Electrical distribution or lighting equipment played a role in 57 percent of all house fires from 2010 to 2014, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Faulty wiring specifically caused the majority of those fires. Reduce your risk of electrical fires by hiring an electrician to check your home’s wiring.
Fix or replace frayed cords and exposed wires right away to keep your home safe from rogue sparks.
Plugging in too many electrical devices to an outlet can overload the circuit, generating heat that wears down internal wires and can eventually start a fire. Never plug more than two appliances into the same outlet or use multiple extension cords to power several devices from the same outlet.
Heating fires are the second leading cause of house fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Prevent potential fires by having your fireplaces, furnaces, and chimneys cleaned and inspected at least once a year.
Be careful not to store firewood, fuel or flammable materials near the fireplace, furnace, space heater or other heat sources. You don’t want an errant spark to find anything that could burst into flames easily.
Always monitor open flames, whether that means the fireplace, the stove or a lit candle. Don’t leave any fires—even controlled ones—unattended.
FEMA recommends keeping a 30-foot defensible zone around the exterior of any building to prevent wildfires from spreading. This means clearing any debris that could catch fire—dead leaves, pine needles, shrubs and other flammable vegetation—within 30 feet of your home.
Review your homeowners or renters insurance policies regularly so you know what will and will not be covered in case of a fire.
If the worst happens and your home catches fire, you’ll need an inventory of everything you own to submit to your insurance company. The easiest way to take an inventory of all of your possessions is by photographing your home. Walk from room to room, taking photos from every angle. Pay special attention to your closet, bookshelves, and valuables.
If authorities provide advance notice that you’ll need to evacuate in advance of a wildfire, you can do a few things to help firefighters. Closing every window, door and vent will reduce drafts and keep the radiant heat down.
If you have time, turn on all of the lights inside and outside your home to make the house more visible through heavy smoke.
It’s also worth disconnecting your automatic garage door opener so you can open the garage door by hand if you lose power. Again, only take this precaution if you have enough time.
If you have time, you might also want to move flammable furniture into the center of the room away from doors and windows and remove window treatments like drapes and blinds. This will reduce the chances of fire entering your home.
Practice shutting off your gas supply in advance so you can limit the amount of fuel a wildfire will have. Again, only do this if you have enough time before evacuating.
Run a bath, fill sinks, connect garden hoses and fill any other large containers you can find with water if you have time before evacuating. This could prove useful to firefighters and allow you to put out small spot fires later on.
You might also want to buy a radio that receives NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, a national network of stations that broadcast weather information from the National Weather Service. This could allow you to stay up to date on all the latest information from officials in case a fire knocks out power to your region.
Finally, download the American Red Cross Emergency: Alerts app ahead of time. This app provides real-time alerts about emergency situations in your area and helps you easily connect with loved ones in case of an emergency.