Fire Hazards in the Home You Might Not Know About

 

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With Rick having worked on a local fire department for over 23 years, every once in awhile we’ll get to “reminiscing” about certain situations he’s experienced during his job as a firefighter.  The other day, we got to talking about some of the more crazy fire experiences he’d either seen, or we’d had at our own house.  You might find it interesting that we’ve had three potentially deadly “almost fire” situations at our home, simply because we are beyond safe concerning fire safety here.  We don’t burn candles in our house, and anytime we have a bonfire in the yard, we tend to it meticulously, assuring that there will be no chance of it burning out of control or having embers jump out and cause trouble to nearby trees or buildings.  Yet, we’ve had three instances in our own home where we could’ve ended up with a very destructive fire on our hands.

Today I’d like to share some of these stories with you, so that you don’t fall prey to these same potential troubles in your own home.

1.  The Remote Control.  Some of you may think that the danger of a remote control starting on fire is nothing but urban legend, and you can find Internet stories that will back up that theory, but we learned firsthand that although the risk is very rare, there absolutely can be a risk there.  One day, while Rick was at work, the kids and I ran out to do a few errands.  When we got home, our oldest headed downstairs to turn on the tube.  She picked up the remote, which had been laying, face-up, on the carpet.  She quickly dropped it and ran upstairs to tell me that it was hot – really hot.  Now, Maddie can be a bit paranoid about stuff like this after having a dad who fought fires for 23 years, so I didn’t think much of it when I went down to the family room to check on the remote.  But when I picked it up, it was hot enough that it left a small burn on my hand. I quickly threw it out back onto our patio, grabbed a screwdriver and pried open the battery compartment.  The batteries were starting to smoke, and the inside battery compartment on the remote was melted – I kid you not.  I researched some causes on the Internet; cheap remote, dead batteries, remote lying face down on a surface, causing a button to be continuously held down – none of these applied to our situation, and there were no recalls on the remote either.  Lesson learned: To this day we’re not sure why our remote did what it did, but we do keep a better eye on them now and never leave them on a flammable surface when we’re going to be leaving the house.

2.  The air exchange system.  This one happened as we were just about to leave our house.  Maddie – the ever attentive child – smelled something burning in the house, like plastic burning.  I smelled a faint whiff of it too, but tended toward dismissing it, as the air-exchange system (which pulls in air from outside and exchanges it with air from inside) sometimes will cause us getting a smell of whoever’s doing whatever outside.  However, this time the smell seemed to be getting stronger.  After wandering around the house checking every possible source, we went to the air exchange system itself.  No smell, but when we took off the metal cover, it was blatantly obvious that the burning plastic smell was coming from the motor itself.  We unplugged the unit, scratched our plans to leave, and I started doing online research, only to find out that this particular air exchange unit was under recall for the possibility of starting fires in homes and that three homes had actually been destroyed from malfunctioning motors.  Lesson learned: always be on the sign-up list for recall notifications of products you own in your home, and don’t ignore strange smells.

3.  The coffee pot.  Similar situation here where we smelled something burning, and lo and behold, Rick gets to the kitchen and finds the coffee pot smoking with a small fire brewing from the inside the motor area!!!  Again, no recalls were listed for this particular product.  We also had a situation where our hair dryer burst into flames WHILE I WAS USING IT.  That gave me some serious paranoia for the next several weeks.  Lesson learned: never, ever leave appliances plugged in when not in use, especially if you’ll be leaving the house.

4.  The laptop.  Rick was at a fire one time that occurred because a guy left his laptop running on a desk, didn’t power it down (it wasn’t plugged in, BTW), left the house, and came back to a pile of ashes.  Most all laptop computers can get hot if left up and running (even if they’re not plugged in) and cause a fire if left on a flammable surface such as wood or fabric. Lesson learned: never ever leave a laptop computer up and running if you’re done using it for a long period of time, never leave it plugged in if you’re going to be away from it for a long period of time, and keep it off of flammable surfaces when you’re going to be away from it for awhile.

5.  The electrical wiring inside your walls.   Now, this is rare, so don’t freak out, but on occasion, electrical wiring can go faulty inside of a wall.  Rick had a call one time where a gal smelled burning inside of her million dollar mini mansion and called the fire dept.  The team traced it to the inside of her wall, broke through the wall, knocked down the very small fire, told her to get an electrician out there immediately and to absolutely not leave the house so that she could keep an eye on any other potentials within the wiring.   So, she called the electrician, but he couldn’t get there for a couple of hours, so she thought it might be fun to go hang out at the neighbor’s house while she waited.  Sure enough, another part of the wiring started on fire, but by the time she saw the smoke from the neighbor’s house, it was too late.  The whole, giant, brand new house went down.  Yes, insurance (and a lawsuit against the builder) covered the costs, but the family lost all personal possessions and risked the lives of many a firefighter as they fought the flames of the fully engulfed house.  If she had stayed home to keep an eye on things, she would’ve smelled another area of burning and been able to have the fire dept. there within a couple of minutes, and saved her house.   Lesson learned: When you’ve got a potentially dangerous fire hazard possibly brewing at your house, don’t leave the house unless your life is in danger.  Instead, work to locate the source of the smell, smoke or whatever, or call for professional help to come right away.

I hope this has been a helpful post for you all.  Many of the fires that occur in homes are completely and totally preventable with some wisdom and knowledge about potential fire hazards, so, do your best to stay safe while in the home.

Any other fire hazards you could add to the list?  Did you learn anything new from the information here? 

50 comments

  1. Liz says:

    I received a Scentsy last year for Xmas. It’s one of those candle-like things where it heats up and melts scented wax without having a flame. I’ve had a few close calls where I *almost* leave the house and forget to shut it off. Even though it doesn’t have a flame, it still heats up and really shouldn’t be left unattended.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I’ve heard of those, and they sound like a fun alternative to candles, but we’re probably too paranoid for that. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Wow – interesting, Holly! I hadn’t heard that one before, but now because I’m so darn cheap, I won’t allow the toaster to be left plugged in. 🙂

  2. Pauline says:

    I used to leave my laptop on all the time, to download movies and things. It would get really hot but I had no idea it could burn! thanks for the warning Laurie.

  3. Where I work we have a recycling bin for old batteries. Last summer, without warning, the thing burst into flames!

    Whether the battery box got too hot or someone put a faulty battery in there I don’t know but it was pretty scary at the time!

    I walked into the office wondered what the terrible smell was – then realized it was the batteries! Not surprisingly we quickly took it outside to dowse the bin!

    All was well in the end but it could have been so different…

    • Laurie says:

      Oh my gosh, Richard!!! That could’ve turned out SO badly!! Good for you guys for thinking quickly and acting rationally. Disaster averted!

  4. Laurie thank you for sharing these horror stories! I had no idea that remote controls and laptops left on were a potential fire hazard. Up until this minute, I’ve always left my laptop on overnight. Not any more though!

  5. We are always checking and double checking whether we turn items off before we leave the house…like coffee pots, curling irons, and computers. I’ve put my notebook (Mac) in my bag before without giving the computer time to shut down all the programs. They keep running, the computer never goes into sleep mode and is very hot when I take it out of the bag. Taking a few extra seconds to check around the house, turn these items off or let them “go to sleep” is worth it.

  6. I have to confess that we are not as vigilant as we should be about potential fire hazards, so I was not aware of most of these. However, I have unfortunately experienced a number of mishaps with my hair tools like the curling iron and blow dryer. It’s funny, though, I was more concerned about burning my hair than burning my house down. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, that is kinda funny. 🙂 We had the hair dryer experience too, though, and it does put you in a moment of panic. 🙂

  7. Crazy that you’ve had that many close calls with fires when you are all aware of what can cause them. Makes me think I am lucky as I do and/or have done lots of the things you listed above that can potentially start fires but I’ve never had a problem. I will be more careful in the future for sure. Luck can’t last forever…

  8. Brit says:

    I didn’t know about the remote control and from experience I don’t think anyone can recover from experiencing a house fire. I lost everything but I’m thankful that we are all alright. Since I tend to freak at the smell of something burning now I’m going to start checking remotes now. 😉 Thank you for the post, Laurie.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh dear, Brit! So sorry to hear that you went through that, and so very glad too that you are all safe. Yeah, we freak out a bit now at the smell of something burning too. Once bitten……

  9. Wow, thanks for informing us of these potential hazards. I would have never though the remote control or laptop could cause a fire. Laptops definitely can get hot…my friend’s leather couch got messed up from the heat of her laptop. Will definitely have to be more careful!

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, sounds like a narrowly averted disaster there too!! Glad your friend only had her couch messed up and not something worse.

  10. I never thought about the remote control catching fire. One time my blower dryer caught on fire while I was doing my hair. That was scary! I quickly dropped it and the fire went out. It was due to the wires touching and the plastic had worn out and I had not noticed this. I always think about electrical fires inside my walls. So scary, thanks for the tips!

    • Laurie says:

      Been there, Raquel, and it IS scary! Ours didn’t have any exposed wires or anything, it just started on fire! The wires inside of the walls thing is super rare, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but it is always something to keep an eye on, I suppose.

  11. Great advice there, Laurie. Fire is the one thing I really worry about with our home. I could care less if some burglar wants to try his luck, and we aren’t subject to a lot of natural disasters here. But fire, that’s the thing I think could potentially take out our house.

    I’m also paranoid about the dryer, so we clean out the entire system every now and again just to make sure lint isn’t hanging around in clumps.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, lint in the dryer can be another common cause of fires too. Good for you guys for being proactive there. Rick always says that most fires are preventable with some simple common sense stuff. Candles are a biggie. We NEVER use them.

  12. Dryer fires are rampant. A coworker only lost her laundry room last fall and was very lucky not to lose a lot more.

    The lint builds up on the vent hose and catches on fire. It is not enough to clean the lint trap in the dryer the venting hose has to be removed and cleaned on a regular basis.

    I am too frugal to use my dryer but when I have to I only run it when I am home to watch it.

    • Laurie says:

      You’re so right, Jane. My mom’s the same way about never running the dryer when she’s not home. We should be better about that.

  13. anna says:

    These are really good things to know – that’s weird about the remote control! I can totally see how a laptop could be hazardous – even if it’s on briefly, the bottom part can get really hot if I place it on my lap. Thanks for sharing, Laurie!

  14. Kay says:

    These are all important hazards to be aware of. It’s funny because I had a similar experience with our remote recently. I picked it up and noticed it was super hot. I did an internet search and it turns out some batteries will get hot and combust! Especially if they are old or not making the right contact. It freaked me out for sure!

    • Laurie says:

      Excellent point about the stove – we’ve had our fair share of those incidents as I used to be terribly absent-minded about that. No more, though.

  15. Yvette says:

    When we had just moved into our house, we had an incident. I was eating breakfast downstairs when I saw sparks coming out of our electrical outlet. At first, I thought I was just seeing things, but then it happened again.

    We called an electrician and he said that homes built before the 1970s had this problem and that we had to “pigtail” all our outlets. We did and we haven’t had a problem since.

    This article was very interesting because who doesn’t leave their computer on sometimes?

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Yvette – that is scary! Thanks for sharing your experience about the electrical outlet – I would have surely thought I was imagining things too!

  16. Thanks for sharing these Laurie. Fire freaks me out and I’m becoming more aware of these hazards now that I’m a homeowner. My grandmother passed away in a fire a few years ago and that sort of experience happening to someone close to you stays with you.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, DC, I’m so very sorry to hear that. How horrible that must have been for all who loved her. Rick’s seen all sorts of that too, and even for the firefighters, it’s a very emotional situation. 🙁

  17. Great tips, Laurie. I leave my laptop on and didn’t realize the potential risk. Now I know better. 🙂 We try to be pretty vigilant on making sure things are unplugged when we leave home. Better safe, than sorry! And that’s crazy about the lady who went over to her neighbors when she knew her home was at risk.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, that’s one story the guys will never forget. Glad you got some great info about the laptop – safety is awesome!

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I don’t think it happens often, but it definitely can happen. We always put ours face up on a ceramic plate now when it’s bedtime or we won’t be home…….

  18. In light of all the fires that have happened lately, I think everyone is really aware of how dangerous a fire can be.I work in a supportive housing residence and the fire department just came to my work to do a presentation on fire safety. The firefighter who came talked a lot about not having heat or cooling sources plugged into power strips (ie refrigerators, air conditioners, portable heaters, microwaves etc.) He said they use too much power and people overload them which causes fires. He also said only buy power cords/strips that are marked “UL” (or something like that) because they have been tested and are safer then ones you’d buy at the dollar store etc. Good tips here Laurie/Rick.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow – great tip, KK – I didn’t know that! We only use power strips for our computers, and we’ll have to make sure it stays that way!

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