Fires can cause tragedy and impact home insurance prices

Fire safety is important from a safety standpoint as well as when it comes to home insurance matters.

Fire safety is important from a safety standpoint as well as when it comes to home insurance matters.

And unfortunately for many homeowners, not everyone is aware of basic safety tips that can avert tragedy and cause serious financial damage. With that in mind, various government agencies and safety organizations are marking the first week of October as Fire Prevention Week.

The National Fire Protection Association offered some statistics to keep in mind this week, noting that cooking is the primary cause of house fires and injuries associated with them. The group also warns that careless disposal of smoking materials accounts for one in four home deaths, which most commonly occur in the bedroom or living room. The high death rate for smoking related incidents can likely be traced to the tendency of many victims to fall asleep while a cigarette is still burning.

With that in mind, some states have even mandated that "fire safe" cigarettes be sold, which go out after being unattended for a short period of time.

Two-thirds of fire deaths between 2003 and 2006 also involved homes that lacked functioning smoke alarms, according to the NFPA. Overall, 2,755 civilians were killed in fires last year, with 386,500 homes affected. This amounts to a rate of eight deaths per day and an injury every 40 minutes, with most fires occurring in the winter months.

One major insurance company recently marked Fire Prevention Week by citing survey results which found relatively low public awareness about fire safety. For example, the poll found that only 8 percent of mothers surveyed know that cooking is the leading cause of home fires, and that only 10 percent said they were concerned about the possibility of a cooking related fire breaking out.

Instead, 21 percent believed that overloaded electrical outlets were a main cause of house fires, even though this accounts for only 8 percent of the total. Another 21 percent thought that smoking was a main cause of fires, even though this accounts for only 2 percent of all house fires. People were also more inclined to believe that candles and electrical appliances cause far more fires than they actually do.

Despite those results, the survey found that 35 percent admit to occasionally leaving cooking food unattended on their stovetop, even though this poses significant risks - especially during a recession where people are saving money by cooking at home more than ever. Approximately 40 percent also acknowledged that they rarely, if ever, discuss fire safety with their children.

Given the fire dangers that are present in an average kitchen, the insurance company suggests that people should keep potentially flammable materials away from cooking areas, and create a "kid-free zone" at least three feet away from the stove. People are also advised to avoid using water on a grease fire, and to smother it instead with baking soda or a lid over the pan.

The White House also cited the importance of Fire Prevention Week, with public safety in mind as well as the damage caused by recent wildfires in California.

"Fire can have a devastating impact on the life of an individual or family, and it can have far-reaching financial and human consequences," said President Obama in his recent proclamation, reminding parents to form emergency fire plans with their children and to be aware of dangers potentially posed by things like heating elements, space heaters and other household items.

With some basic caution, people can stay safe and avoid a disaster that could result in a serious home insurance claim.

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Posted: October 6, 2009

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