The roof of a house is burning, while a firefighter rushes with his hose to put out the blaze.
The roof of a house is burning, while a firefighter rushes with his hose to put out the blaze.

Fire safety planning: how to plan for the unthinkable

September 7, 2022

At Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America (BRCA), our multidisciplinary approach to burn injuries promotes the best possible outcomes for all patients treated by our nationwide burn care providers. While BRCA encourages patients to seek medical attention when an injury occurs, we do our best to educate online and in-person communities on the risks, treatments and preventions of various burns, wounds and skin and soft tissue disorders for better care and recovery.

Common culprits of home fires

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), cooking, heating, electrical product malfunction, smoking and candles are the leading causes of house fires in homes across the country. It is important to understand the common ways these mundane activities and products can lead to property damage, burns and other life-threatening injuries so that we can help protect ourselves and others.

Cooking: Grease and grilling are some of the most common causes of cooking fires. A buildup of grease in the stove, an overflow of oil while frying a turkey, burning food, etc., can become a blazing fire in seconds. You should never attempt to move a grease fire or put it out with water. Instead, turn off the heat, and smother it with a cookie sheet or lid. You should never grill on a wooden deck or within ten feet of a house. A propane tank explosion or falling coals can spark a fire that can grow out of control quickly.

Heating: Though heating fires pick up during winter, space heaters and open fireplaces aren’t always seasonal threats. Whether summer or winter, electrical and solid burning heaters are fire hazards at work, home and on vacation. Chimneys and fireplaces should be professionally cleaned annually to help clear any debris lodged from the previous year. Flammable materials should not be within three feet of fireplaces or space heaters. Heating appliances should always be supervised, and when not in use, they should be turned off and put away.

Electrical product malfunction: In old homes, consider hiring a professional to inspect the wiring before moving in or plugging up major appliances. Be careful not to overload outlets or extension cords. Appliances like space heaters should never be plugged into extension cords but directly into the wall outlet. Ensure your home is equipped with circuit interrupters to protect your home from power surges or lightning strikes.

Smoking: No one should smoke indoors or within ten feet of the house. Cigarette butts should always be extinguished entirely and discarded in a cigarette butt receptacle or ash can. Never smoke with oxygen on. Lastly, do not smoke in bed or in places where you are likely to fall asleep.

Candles: Always keep burning candles or incense within sight and extinguish both before leaving a room or going to sleep. Never burn a candle or incense on or near flammable objects. Keep both candles and incense out of reach of small children and pets, and only burn them in a well-ventilated area.

Fire safety planning

House fires are unpredictable and extremely devastating. While many of the above can happen anytime, you and your loved ones can be prepared to take action by forming a fire evacuation plan.

To form your fire evacuation plan:

  • Gather everyone in the house and draw a floor plan of the residence.
  • Take note of all the exits, possible escape routes and fire alarms and extinguishers.
  • When choosing your escape routes, make sure the areas remain free of clutter and that all doors and windows can be opened and shut completely.
  • Pick a meeting spot, such as a street sign, mailbox or neighbor’s house, where everyone will gather once the home is evacuated.
  • For households with people with disabilities, infants or toddlers, assign a family member to assist them in the event of a fire.
  • Have everyone memorize emergency contacts, such as 911.
  • Lastly, practice your plan with everyone in the house. Practice the plan at least once a year, and when you move into a new residence.
    • People practice fire drills typically without the alarm—practicing with the fire alarm on can help prepare kids for the sound level and disorienting siren of the alarm in the event of a house fire.

Some other home fire safety tips to keep in mind:

  • It is recommended to sleep with bedroom doors and windows shut in case a fire occurs. While closed doors and windows will not smother a fire, they will slow it down, so everyone has a chance to get to safety or for help to arrive.
  • If you get trapped in a room, seal the door with towels, tape or anything else to keep the smoke from coming inside. Then, open the window and flag for help.
  • Everyone should crawl along the ground to minimize smoke inhalation.
  • Do not open a door without gauging the temperature. Place the back of your hand on the wood of the door. If it is warm, do not open the door and do not touch the doorknob.
  • Leave everything behind. Do not stop to gather personal belongings. The quicker everyone is safe, the faster the fire department can respond and focus on limiting the damage. *
  • Do not try to fight a fire that is larger than a small trash can.
  • Remind kids that they should never hide in the event of a fire. You want firefighters to be able to find them.
  • Ensure kids know to call 911 in case of any emergency.

*While furry, feathered and scaly friends are dear to us, BRCA advises against returning to get them. Instead, alert the first responders that there are pets inside and consider purchasing a sticker to put on your front window or door that alerts others to the presence of pets.

 Further Information

For more information about fire safety or thermal burns, please visit our website at If you are suffering from a thermal injury, please don’t wait to seek help. Call our experts 24/7 at (855) 863-9595 for your non-emergent needs. For emergencies, please call 911.

For more information on thermal burns, please click here.

To watch a home fire survival and recovery story, please click here.