Whenever I mention to people that my stove set my house on fire last week, they assume it must be my wood cookstove. But no, it was the electric stove that nearly burned down the house last week. I was canning raspberry jam on a warm indian summer’s day, and thinking about our anticipated sukkah guests that night, when I walked back into the kitchen to find the stove and the back wall of my kitchen in flames, and one of my electric burners shooting sparks. Fortunately the fire extinguishers we have always kept at hand near every st0ve worked just fine – but we were lucky. Another two minutes and the stove would have been beyond my capacity to put out on my own – and given our distance from the volunteer fire department (bless them!) we would have lost at least the kitchen and quite probably the house.
We were also fortunate – although all the kids but Eli were at home, none of them were endangered by smoke inhalation – Baby Z. was down for a nap in his bedroom with the door closed, and the other boys were upstairs in my room making stuff with the door closed. We teach fire safety with my kids, and I was proud to see how all three kids responded to my urgent “Fire!” call with an entirely appropriate reaction. Everyone got out, we called the fire department, the boys watched the baby until they came, and all was well. I even saved the jam.
We needed a new electric stove and the back wall of my kitchen needs some repairs, sanding and repainting, but that’s a small price to pay. It turns out the culprit was the company that installed the electric stove – they installed it incorrectly using a dryer cord not rated to the stove’s wattage. The damage came in under our insurance deductible, but we’re hoping to get something back from the company that caused the fire (that I won’t at present name, although I might if they don’t come through ;-)).
It does remind me, however, to think hard about our preparations for fire, and to mention that to all of you. I have found myself appreciating how lucky we are – as homeschoolers and foster parents, we get regular reminders from our district and the county that we are REQUIRED to post exit plans and prepare all kids old enough to escape a fire safely. We have always had fire exitinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but those things became mandatory for us when we started fostering, and that again helps us make sure we’re keeping up. The reality is that fire can happen anytime, and when you need those things, there really isn’t time to go get them – not even to get the fire extinguisher from the other end of the house, much less to sit down and figure out a safe escape plan. So put some time into your fire prep – it took less than two minutes to go from sparks to woodwork fully aflame.
Although it was the fossil fueled “safe” stove that caused the problem here, those of us who heat with wood or other direct fuels, or who have frequent power outages need to be particularly careful. Candles get knocked over, alternate fuel stoves being used for the first time can cause fires, uncleaned chimneys catch fire. It is easy to get a little lax on these issues, because mostly, things don’t catch on fire – but laxness is not a good plan here.
Here are our family’s preps for this:
- We have a WRITTEN fire escape plan. This was posted only one place in the house, but will now be posted several. We review it more than annually with the kids, and teach kids too young to follow the plan what they should do. We have occasional fire drills as well, as well as teaching them the routine of “get low and go” etc…
- The upstairs bedrooms have fire escape ladders. Older children who can be trusted not to abuse them are taught how to use them.
- All smoke detectors are checked twice a year. We have them in front of each bedroom, just outside the kitchen, in each living room, and in the basement. Some are battery powered, others are wired into the house but all have ten year smoke detector batteries for backup. The same goes for the two CO detectors in the house.
- All kids old enough to do so learn how to dial 911 AND what to say – how to tell their address, how to stay on the line and follow instructions, etc…
- We have alert stickers on windows wear disabled children and infants sleep, so that the Fire Department can locate them quickly. We have alerted our local FD and PD to the fact that we have a severely disabled child in the home and that he might not know how to come out during a fire. My other children have been talked to about how to help Eli in an emergency.
- There are four fire extinguishers in our house, one near each stove (wood and otherwise) and one upstairs and another at the top of the basement stairs.
- What I did not do until now is teach my children how to use a fire extinguisher by actually trying it out (I had explained it), but I know our local FD will arrange this, and I WILL be doing this.
- We never leave lighted candles unattended EVER. We are very careful with lamps and lamp oil, and with alternate fuel stoves (most of which are used outside anyway).
- We have our chimneys cleaned annually and know how to handle a chimney fire (Greenpa has a great post about this).
- I keep shoes and a flashlight next to my bed – I didn’t always do this, but the desire to escape a fire in February barefoot in the dark is not great.
- We also keep a fire extinguisher in the car as well.
In a power outage or other natural disaster, fire risk goes up exponentially so that’s an important part of our preparedness -being personally prepared for fire and also being prepared to help others. This is particularly urgent in areas where housing is stacked or close together, where your neighbor’s use of an improperly used heater or cooking device, or a knocked over candle can take out your house. So besides preparing for a personal fire, it is worth thinking about how to minimize the risk and maximize safety for everyone in proximity to you.
I had done most of the above, but I admit, I hadn’t thought much about it until, well, I was really glad I’d done it. It would have been easy for me to let some of these things slide. I’m really glad I didn’t, and I hope you don’t either!