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Indoor plants flammable in some Southern California homes
A tree planting done incorrectly can lead to a house catching fire. An artificial plant can fuel a house fire and an indoor plant can even start a small forest fire. (David McNew/Getty Images)
Los Angeles County firefighters have found that more than half the fire-related deaths and more than half of the house fire deaths in the county happen when people start a fire in their houses or apartments. (Los Angeles County Fire Department)
Smoke detector batteries and smoke detectors themselves are prone to premature failure. A few of these are sold to home-entertainment products, but by and large, they are primarily used in commercial applications. Batteries in the smoke detector can run out of power and fire-suppression sprinkler systems, which rely on sensors in the ceiling, can malfunction if they experience too much damage. The problems result in increased insurance costs and decreased public safety.
Unfortunately, just about anyone can experience a fire at home. Fires can be started by humans, animals, insects, mischievous children or unsavory acts. The latter are particularly dangerous because they often involve serious criminal activity. Fire can also be caused by equipment used in the home: the microwave, furnace, dryer, and the like. Unused or aging equipment can often emit hazardous gases. In this section, we’ll examine the possible causes of fire in the home and discuss how to protect your family from the potential dangers of fire.
Fires can be lit by humans
While humans most often light fires, animals can set a fire too. Horses, dogs, cats, reptiles, snakes and even deer have set fires. Birds, particularly chickens, can also cause fires. Incidents involving insects are rare, but a study found that about a quarter of the fire deaths in the U.S. over a 10-year period were caused by insect-related fires. But why would insects set fires?
The fire may be lit by a desire for food. Insects can be attracted to lights and they can attract other insects to them. In order to feed, the fire must have a source of fuel. And the fuel must be wet. The resulting fire can be bigger, scarier, smellier and more dangerous than a normal house fire.
This image, taken from an undated photo provided by the Louisiana State Fire Marshal, shows fire investigators on August 6, 2013 examining a pillow engulfed in flames inside a house in Pelican, Louisiana. The Louisiana State Fire Marshal says a husband and wife are missing and their bodies were found after a fire destroyed their house early Thursday morning, August 6, 2013. Officials say a body was found under the rubble of the home in Pelican, near the Texas border. (AP Photo/Louisiana State Fire Marshal)
Careful planning and preparation can save you from fires set by your pets or insects. Make sure that all electrical wiring is properly grounded or backed with an isolator, that cooking fumes and waste is removed from your home, that all appliances are properly grounded, that you store flammables away, that your vehicle is parked so it cannot be a potential threat, that you have adequate water and that you have an escape plan that includes calling 911. Having working smoke detectors can also save your life.
Fires can be lit by equipment
Some household appliances emit gases that can cause a fire. Small appliances, such as space heaters, baby carriages and some portable kerosene heaters, are frequently used indoors. Unfortunately, some of these appliances create gases that could lead to a fire if they get out of control. Older space heaters have an open flame that may produce soot and possibly gases, especially in dusty or warm conditions. Many infant carriages do not have approved filters for the strollers that hold the baby. The baby stroller may also emit a gas or may be missing an approved gas-filter installation. Many portable kerosene heaters do not emit gases or do not have a correct filter installation.
Gas-emitting devices can also fail in unexpected ways. Water heaters are not all created equal. Some may be more prone to leaks. A burned-out pilot light can mean the possibility of a gas leak. Overheating of a kerosene heater can cause it to “run dry.” These problems can occur as a result of failure, age or improper maintenance. Inspect your heaters frequently and pay attention to the signs of a gas leak.
Electrical wiring is prone to failure
Even some of the safest devices are prone to failure. Electrical wiring is one of the most common fire hazards in homes. Poor wiring or wiring practices can lead to fires. If a branch line from a transformer is energized with a hot wire, the entire branch may overheat. In older homes, wires were once buried in the foundation. Now, they are often placed in the ceiling or within walls. In some cases, this is done for aesthetic reasons. Most devices are supplied with a new, recently installed electrical connection. Occasionally, if a circuit is tested, the testers turn off a circuit. When the circuit is no longer energized, the wire is immediately removed and new wire is installed. The quality of the construction and installation can affect the safety of a home. If the wires were in an improper location or are made of poor quality wire, this can lead to a fire.
Protect yourself and others
If you’re worried that a fire might start, follow the 10 steps outlined below:
1. Control the fire source. A fire