House fires spark winter safety warning

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 30 June 2020

How to protect yourself and your home against preventable house fires in winter.

A spate of fatal house fires across the country in June serve as a stark reminder for householders to be vigilant about fire danger over winter.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s spokesman Adam Dalrymple says winter is traditionally a busy season for preventable house fires – last winter MFB firefighters attended 383 house fires, nearly four a day.

Most are related to everyday activities including cooking, which caused 41 per cent of fires, electrical mishaps causing 17 per cent and heating systems 12 per cent. The kitchen continues to be a fire danger spot, accounting for half of all incidents last winter.

House on fire

“This is a concerning figure and one that we should not accept. The kitchen can be the most dangerous room in your home and not taking proper precautions can put you at risk.

“You should always keep looking if you are cooking, and if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off all appliances.”

He advises people to keep tea towels and other items that could catch fire away from the stove top and always supervise children when cooking. (More: How to spot hazards in the home.)

“We want to see people become more proactive and develop safe fire habits as all house fires are preventable,” Adam says.

“If you’re not maintaining household items such as electric blankets, heaters and kitchen appliances, or if you are using them incorrectly, you are putting yourself and the people you live with at risk.”

He says charging smartphones or other electrical devices on soft surfaces such as bedding or your couch can spark a fire, and says people should ensure laptops have a good source of airflow.

Overloading powerboards or electrical sockets can cause fires and there is also a risk if people overcharge devices, especially those with lithium-ion batteries. Unplug them as soon as they are charged.

“Don’t forget your first line of defence during a fire is a working smoke alarm,” Adam says.

“We recommend that smoke alarms be installed in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways and multiple units are interconnected so no matter where you are in your home you’ll be alerted if there is a fire.”

A recent survey by the Country Fire Authority found that while most households have at least one smoke alarm, just 16 per cent of people have an alarm in their bedroom. This is despite CFA findings that 25 per cent of fires causing death or serious injury start in a bedroom. 

The CFA recommends that every household install interconnected smoke alarms, a system where if one alarm is activated, all the alarms throughout the house will sound. Currently just 11 per cent of homes have these systems. 

Power points on fire
Smoke and fire coming under a door

Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s 10 top tips for fire safety in winter 

  • Test smoke alarms monthly. 
  • Install interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways. 
  • Never leave cooking unattended. 
  • Ensure all electrical appliances including heaters are kept in good working order and replaced if damaged. 
  • Keep drying clothes and other items at least one metre away from all heaters. 
  • Only charge electronic devices like smartphones and laptops on surfaces that will not burn, and unplug them as soon as they’re charged. 
  • Extinguish cigarettes and all open flames including candles and fireplaces before leaving home or going to bed. 
  • Have a fire escape plan and practise it regularly. 
  • Never overload powerboards or overcharge devices. 
  • Read more from the MFB on home fire safety

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