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!




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As it so happens, I just climbed down from cleaning the chimney for a break and read this. Wow. Thanks for the review, and so, so glad it went so well.

By risa bear (not verified) on 11 Oct 2012 #permalink

Our local fire department has a digital fire extinguisher thing. You can practice all kinds of stuff without making a mess.

Glad you did alright.
Flashlights should be near each sleeping child, too. Maybe mark them fire so they don't end up being used for other things.

Practicing fire extinguishers is actually fun, and surprising.

Electrical cords are funny things. Sometimes they can carry a certain load for some time with little problem, but through wear and/or repeated thermal cyclings, the cords, especially where the cord plugs into the outlet, develop spots of higher resistance, and that's the spot that suddenly gets *too* hot one day, then melts, burns, and.....oops!

Canning can really tax a cord on an electric stove I would suppose too as not only does one have a large surface element set on HIGH or nearly so, but most of the other elements too for tasks such as heating jar lids or pre-processing produce (in this case jam) as well. Then if the oven is on too, the cord is finally overwhelmed with load, and if the cord is too small to boot.... :-(

Electrical fires can happen in many other ways as well.

Some years ago, my mom was home alone and smelled something strange burning. She called the fire department even though there was really no smoke even yet (the smoke detectors didn't notice anything yet either) and the arriving fire fighters quickly found an outlet in the dining room - an outlet that didn't even have anything plugged into it and in fact was behind a hutch and was almost never used - that was the source of the odor. It turned out that the outlet was in a string of outlets that were in use down stream and that a screw had loosened over time on the outlet. The now loose connection was overheating and was soon to fail, most likely in a very sad and dangerous way. Either vibration from the stove's ventilator fan on the other side of the wall was to blame, or constant thermal cycling from the electrical load passing through the backside connections on the outlet was. Maybe 20 odd years previously, the electrician hadn't torqued down that screw as well as the others, or maybe he had and it still loosened up.

Ever since then, learning of a seemingly perfectly good, seldom used and never abused outlet still almost starting a house fire has kept me very respectful of electrical wiring and fixtures.

'Glad you're all okay.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 11 Oct 2012 #permalink

One other thing to be aware of is the lint buildup from your clothes dryer. Mine is in the center of the second floor and vents through the attic. Lint can build up in the ductwork. I had it cleaned the same time as the chimney (which I never use.)

When I was eight, our house burned to the ground. I was at school; my mother got my younger sisters out safely, but the fire department was too far away to save the house. It was an old farmhouse with wiring added later. The original construction had used wooden pegs instead of nails.

You might keep shoes by the doors as well; you won't always be in bed when the fire starts.

Thank you for the reminders. Glad you all are safe.

By Lisa in MN (not verified) on 29 Oct 2012 #permalink