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Home Fires Biggest Disaster Threat to Families in United States

The American Red Cross responded to more than 62,960 home fires during the 2011 fiscal year. House fires are the worst disaster threat to families in the United States. During Fire Prevention Month, the Red Cross encourages awareness of steps to take to prevent a house fire.

Home fires are devastating for the families involved, and the Red Cross lends a helping hand to those whose homes are affected. In East Providence, Rhode Island, 18 people were recently left homeless after fire destroyed their apartment building. In Hazleton, Pa., 17 people were forced out of their apartments when awakened by smoke and flames. In both instances, the Red Cross was on the scene.

To help avoid a fire in your home, there are steps you can take now:

  • Keep items that can catch on fire at least three feet away from anything that gets hot, such as space heaters.
  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Talk to children regularly about the dangers of fire, matches and lighters and keep them out of reach.
  • Turn portable heaters off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Across the country, cooler weather is settling in and people are relying on alternative heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, wood or coal stoves to take the chill off their homes. Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Other safety steps when using alternative heating sources include:

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.

During Fire Prevention Month, visit the Preparedness section of for more steps to lessen the chance of a home fire.