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Would You Know How to React in a House Fire?

Residential fires are much less common than they were a few decades ago, but the rate of home fire fatalities has held steady.
October 17, 2019

Would You Know How to React in a House Fire?

October 17, 2019

Residential fires are much less common than they were a few decades ago, but the rate of home fire fatalities has held steady.

Even though Fire Prevention Week (October 6-12, 2019) is now officially over, we want to keep the conversation about fire safety going., a group of dedicated researchers and safety advisors, has developed a timeline of a typical house fire. Use it to assess your personal readiness level and address any weak points in your home fire safety plan. Read the original article here:

The latest data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that there are 357,000 house fires with 2,630 fatalities and 10,600 injuries every year. So, while fires are less frequent, they remain just as deadly, and preparation and awareness are still your best line of defence. Here’s what to do in a house fire.


Timeline of a Typical House Fire

Fire starts

Leading Causes of Home Structure Fires 2012-2016

  • Cooking is the leading cause of house fires, followed by heating, electric distribution, arson and smoking materials.
  • Home fires are more common during the winter months (November-March) when people spend more time indoors. The rate of house fires peaks between 5:00-8:00 PM, when busy people are returning from school or work and preparing dinner. Only 20% of reported home fires happen between 11:00 PM – 7:00 AM, but people are more likely to be injured during these hours because they’re likely sleeping and slow to respond.

1 min – Smoke alarm goes off

Smoke Alarm Status in Home Fire Fatalities

  • Early alerts are key to safe evacuation. Response times of smoke alarms depends on the size and nature of the fire, the type of smoke alarm being used, and its distance from the fire. This quick response assumes there are functional smoke alarms close to the origin of the fire. In 57% of home fire deaths, smoke alarms are either non-existent or non-functioning.

3 min – Evacuate

  • “We used to say that you have 7-8 minutes to leave your home after you hear the smoke alarm. Now, you have more like 1 or 2 minutes from the time the alarm sounds.” – Susan McKelvey, NFPA
  • Modern construction trends like open spaces, synthetic materials and lightweight wood construction cause house fires to spread more quickly than they used to. Because fires spread so fast, premeditated evacuation plans are of utmost importance.

4 min – Call 911

  • Get everyone in your household to safety before calling for help. If you’re calling on a cell phone, walk a safe distance from the house before calling. If you live in a rural area or your home or house number is not clearly visible from the street, consider asking a household member or neighbour to wait at the end of the driveway to help emergency services find you.

5 min – Use the fire extinguisher                   (if it’s not dangerous)

  • Don’t waste valuable time with the fire extinguisher unless it’s safe to do so. That means that 911 has already been called, everyone is evacuated, the fire is small, smoke has not yet filled the room, heat is not oppressive, and escape routes are not blocked.
  • You also need the right kind of fire extinguisher and to know how to use it. If you’re shopping for a home fire extinguisher, look for multipurpose ones that fight Class A, B and C fires. Otherwise, you run the risk of actually accelerating the fire.

9 min – Fire department response

  • The NFPA sets a goal for the first fire department responding unit to arrive within 6 minutes of receiving your call. That goal response time allows a minute for call processing, a minute to leave the station and four minutes for travel.
  • In reality, actual response times vary greatly and many factors (your location, weather, traffic conditions, other emergencies happening nearby) are out of the control of the fire department. The sooner you call 911, the better.

Return to your home when it’s determined safe

  • Even if a fire is successfully extinguished, it may not be safe to enter your home. Fire, heat and smoke can damage electrical wiring and weaken the building’s structural integrity. Furthermore, chemicals used to extinguish fires are contaminants and any synthetic materials that may have burnt (furniture, upholstery, appliances) release contaminants of their own.
  • Do not enter the house unless the fire department gives the OK to do so. Even then, your home may need smoke and fire remediation and cleaning services before you can move back in.
  • Knowing how to work with your insurance company after a loss will make the claims process go much smoother and save you from additional heartache.

What to Do in a House Fire – Beyond the Classroom

Red River Mutual is a major sponsor of the Firefighters’ Burn Fund of Manitoba Fire Safety Trailer Program. This program has seen 22 Fire Safety Trailers deployed throughout the province of Manitoba since 2011. The trailers provide interactive fire safety training and emergency response service education to young people who learn about fire safety through the use of props, such as smoke machines and heated doors that simulate a real house fire.

For more fire prevention tips, visit our Loss Prevention pages or follow @RedRiverMutual on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Get your kids involved in safety planning too by visiting