Only You Can Prevent House Fires

On June 25, 2016 a house in Antioch, California burst into flames. The fire raged across the dry grass in the backyard and consumed the interior of the house, destroying the family’s possessions and many cherished memories. It then spread from the house to nearby trees and became a huge blaze that caused an evacuation of all nearby residents, damaged 5 houses, and threatened a total of 30 houses and two neighborhoods. Firefighters battled dry conditions, high winds and temperatures in the upper 90s for over two hours to get the fire under control and eventually extinguished. Fortunately, no one lost their lives in this fire.

The cause? A neighbor’s still lit cigarette carelessly discarded into some dry weeds.

Scene from Antioch fire. Source: NBC Bay Area

Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States and most home fire deaths are completely preventable. As of 2014, cigarette smoking was the second highest cause of residential building fire deaths. That same year cigarette-related house fires caused 7,600 fires, claimed 325 lives, and cost $229,900,000 worth of damage.

Being aware of the risks that a lit cigarette poses and knowing how to properly avoid or minimize these risks could greatly reduce the number of unnecessary deaths from smoking related fires.

The following are some of the highest risk behaviors and some tips to keep you and your family safe.

High Risk Behaviors

Using cigarettes when you are not fully in control of your mind always creates a risky situation. For example, smoking while drinking alcohol or while under the effect of medication that causes sleepiness are behaviors to avoid.

Smoking when you are sleepy or smoking while in bed can also lead to a fatal situation.

The most common items to catch on fire from a lit cigarette butt are trash, mattresses, bedding, and upholstered furniture. Always use care when using or extinguishing cigarettes around these items.

Tips to Avoid Cigarette-Related Fires

  • Smoke outside → always dispose of cigarettes in the proper places
  • Put cigarettes out all the way → make sure you do this every time you smoke
  • Smoke only when you are alert → do not smoke when sleepy or under the influence of medication or alcohol
  • Do no smoke around medical oxygen → just a flame or a spark can cause it to explode even if the oxygen is turned off
  • If choose to smoke indoors, do not smoke in bed → it is too easy to fall asleep and forget to extinguish the cigarette properly
  • Use an astray or a bucket with sand → this helps to ensure the cigarette is completely out
  • Make sure the ashtray is sturdy → use one with a wide base that will not tip over
  • Place ashtray on a sturdy surface → use a surface that will not catch fire or tip over easily
  • Check for still lit butts → check in, on and around furniture for any cigarette butts that may have fallen out of sight
  • Make your home smoke-free → sign a pledge and let others know smoking is not allowed in your home
  • Make an attempt to quit for good → call the S.C. Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1–800–784–8669)

Recent Developments

A study carried out over a 10-year period (2005–2014) showed that smoking related fire deaths declined by 42% during those 10 years. A decrease in the overall number of smokers has contributed to this decline. Other factors include the creation of mattresses and upholstery that are more resistant to fire and reduced ignition strength cigarettes. These cigarettes have lessened ability to start fires and are believed to be the cause of a 30% decline in house fires from 2003–2001. These “fire safe” cigarettes have now become the standard for all cigarettes sold in the United States and Canada.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that just because these precautions have been put into place does not mean smoking in the home is suddenly safe. It remains imperative to follow the above safety tips and to always practice caution when smoking indoors.

Resources

USFA Fire Estimate Summary

Most Common Fire Hazards

U.S Fire Administration

National Fire Protection Association

NBC: Bay Area News

S.C. Tobacco Quitline

Sara Garzia

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