The United States has a severe fire problem, more so than is generally perceived. Approximately 3,500 to 4,000 people die every year from fire and thousands of people are injured. Just in Washington State over the last 20 years, 1,195 people lost their lives in fire. King County averages about 11 fire deaths per year.
Cooking, smoking, heating, electrical, and arson are some of the major causes of fire in general, and careless smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths. About one-third of all fires occur in residential properties; one-third involves natural vegetation (brush or wildland); and the remaining third involves vehicles, outside equipment and storage, and other locations. Most fires are human-caused and are preventable, while only a small percentage of fires are actually due to natural acts such as lightening.
In order for a fire to occur, three elements in the right combination are required – heat or ignition source, fuel, and oxygen. How a fire behaves primarily depends on the characteristics of available fuel and other conditions. In wildland fires, weather conditions and terrain are key factors. Weather plays a role in the forms of wind, precipitation, and lightening. Drought, snow pack, and local weather conditions can also expand the length of the fire season. Terrain is an additional factor, as the topography of a region or local area influences the amount and moisture of available fuel.
A fire of natural or human-caused origin that results in the destruction of homes, businesses, and other structures in populated, urban or suburban areas. Fast-spreading structure fires can quickly threaten a large amount of people, as well as tax the resources of local fire-fighting jurisdictions. Structure fires can also be potential secondary hazards of earthquakes and riots.
A fire of natural or human-caused origin that results in the uncontrolled destruction of forests, field crops and grasslands. Depending on weather conditions, fuel and topography, wildland fires can spread rapidly and may require additional firefighting resources, lasting days or months to prevent further extension and extinguishment of fire.
A fire of natural or human-caused origin that occurs in or near forest or grassland areas where isolated homes, subdivisions, and small communities are also located. With the growth and urbanization some areas, and more comprehensive transportation systems, the potential for wildland urban or interface fire increases. As a result of this urban interface, the effects of these fires can be the combined consequences of both structure and wildland fires. Urban interface fires can encroach onto residential properties and structure fires can invade wooded areas. Interface fires can also be quite difficult to fight, as remote locations of residential properties in wooded areas can increase firefighting response times to those isolated areas.
Fire hazards present a very real risk for Puget Sound residents and businesses. We must be vigilant, prepare and mitigate these hazards in our region and surrounding counties. Contact your local fire department for more information.
What to do to prevent and prepare for a fire:
- Learn how to prevent fires in and around your home. Common fire causes include: cooking, smoking, heaters, candles, electrical, arson, and children playing with fire.
- Install and maintain smoke detectors on every level of your home and inside and outside every bedroom. Most fatal fires happen at night while you’re sleeping and you will not smell the smoke, even if you are a light sleeper.
- Have a fire extinguisher available and know when and how to use it. Minimum recommended size: 2A:10BC.
- Plan and physically practice a home escape plan as part of your family disaster plan. Plan two ways out of every room and practice how to safely exit in the event of a fire.
- Provide escape ladders for stories above the first level and make sure you practice using them.
- Designate one outside meeting place so everyone in your family knows where to meet once you’re out. A good place may be somewhere in the front of your home, a safe distance away, where firefighters can account for you.
- If you live in an multiple-family residence or assisted living facility, learn what the emergency evacuation procedures are for your complex. Make sure you are familiar with the building’s fire protection systems, what they sound like, how they activate, and what to do if the alarm goes off.
- Be sure to plan for family members with special needs who may require assistance.
- Review the evacuation procedures for your building.
- Learn what fire protection systems and features are in your building, where they are located, and how they operate (i.e. fire alarms, sprinkler systems, manual pull stations, fire doors, extinguishing systems, building communications, elevator recall, etc.)
- Learn where all the exits are and know more than one way out.
- Find out where safe areas of refuge (rooms, enclosed stairwells) are located in case you can’t get out and how to protect in place.
- Know when and how to use a fire extinguisher.
What to do during a fire:
- If a fire starts, alert others and get out of the building. A fire can easily travel through a house in less than five minutes.
- Only fight a fire if the fire is small, you know how to use a fire extinguisher, and your way out will not be blocked if the fire gets too big.
- If you’re primary escape route is filled with smoke, use your second way out. If you must escape through the smoke, stay low under the smoke and crawl quickly to safety.
- Once outside the building, stay outside – do not go back into the building that is on fire, even if you think the fire is still small.
- Go to the designated outside meeting place where everyone can be accounted for.
- Call 9-1-1 to get help.
- If you cannot get out, stay in a room (as far away from the fire as possible) with the door closed and protect in place. The more barriers and space between the fire and you will increase your chances of survival. If you can signal firefighters at a window for help. If you have a phone in the room call 9-1-1 and report your location.
- If your clothes catch on fire – stop, drop and roll. Stop where you are, drop to the ground, and roll until the fire is out. Cool the burned skin with water and call 9-1-1 to get emergency aid.