The recent and very tragic spate of house fires in parts of Australia has highlighted the need for homes to be protected against preventable fires. While you may have smoke alarms installed, is your home really fire safe?
Australia plays host to around 11,000 house fires each year, with one in every five Australians experiencing a house fire at some point during their life.
More than 50 deaths are recorded each year as a result of accidental house fires. The majority of these tragic deaths occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and are more common in winter when people are using fireplaces, heaters and other electrical equipment to warm their homes. Summer, too, poses its own risk as bushfires swallow unprepared houses whole.
But just what can you do to protect your home against fire beyond the obligatory smoke detector test?
Fire & Rescue NSW Commissioner, Greg Mullins, says that more than 60 per cent of home fire deaths occur during the cooler months of May to September.
“The leading causes of fatal home fires are heaters and electrical equipment and wiring, smoking materials, matches, lighters and unattended cooking,” he says.
Spring’s warmer days and cooler nights can also make people complacent about fire safety. Heaters are often turned back on without being thoroughly checked when a cool snap moves through, resulting in unnecessary accidents and deaths.
Who’s at risk?
The elderly, the young and those affected by drugs or alcohol are most at risk of succumbing to a house fire.
Fire has claimed the lives of more people over 60 this year than in any other age group and this is a trend that is set to continue as the Australian population ages.
FRNSW’s Community Safety Coordinator for Ageing and Disabilities, Melanie Rebane, said older people were the biggest “at risk” group.
“Out of 13 preventable fire deaths in NSW this year, eight involved people over the age of 60,” Firefighter Rebane said.
“Common dangerous habits include leaving cooking unattended, drying clothes too close to the heater and falling asleep while smoking or with an electric blanket on,” she says.
What have you missed?
There’s no denying the fact that smoke alarms save lives. Smoke alarms cut the risk of death from a house fire by more than 50 per cent in homes that have them properly installed in suitable locations.
While you may have a working smoke alarm or two in your home, you need to make sure you check each alarm monthly, change the batteries every six months and replace the entire unit every 10 years to ensure the safety of you and your family.
Smoke alarms are excellent at detecting house fires, but what can you do to prevent them? The best thing you can do, says FRNSW Acting Commissioner John Benson, is to identify and change risky behaviour and habits.
“People need to be vigilant in their homes,” he says. “It’s basic steps like turning off heaters and keeping clothing at least one metre from them, not overloading power points and not leaving cooking and other open flame materials such as cigarettes and candles unattended.”
Doing a home fire safety audit and preparing an escape plan are also essential.
Below are some common causes of house fires that may pose a risk in your home:
- The dryer: You should clear out the lint filter in your dryer after every use, not just when it is full.
- Electrical wires: Storms and rain can affect the electrical wiring in your roof. If you notice a leak, get it checked immediately to help prevent a fire from sparking.
- Heaters: Make sure all heaters, even “safe” oil heaters, are kept at least one metre away from clothes, curtains and soft furnishings.
- Power sockets: Check regularly for signs of wear and do not overload with double adaptors. Use a power board with a safety switch instead.
- Flames: Make sure you keep matches and lighters well out of reach of curious children and never leave a burning candle unattended.
Preparing your home for bushfire season is something all Australians are aware of. Yet only 25 per cent of Australians who live in bushfire-prone areas have a bushfire survival plan.
This year, bushfires across Australia are predicted to be especially harsh so if you do live in an affected area it’s time to prepare your home and your family.
Simple steps, such as cleaning leaves and other organic matter from your gutters and around your property will slow a fire down. Other steps include:
- Ensuring LPG cylinders around your home have pressure relief valves facing outwards
- Cutting back overhanging trees and keeping grass short
- Ensuring your hose is long enough to reach the perimeter boundary of your house
- Ensuring any fire hydrants near your home are not obstructed.
Fire is a very real threat to a large number of Australians so reduce your risk by preparing yourself and your home against common, preventable fires. You can complete a free home fire safety audit online and if you need any further assistance, contact your local fire station for more information.