Structure Fire


Home or structure fires can happen any time. Our daily lifestyles and behaviors or even faulty technology can start a fire in our living and work spaces. Our preparedness and mitigation can prevent a fire from even starting. But if a fire does start for any reason, and we know how to react quickly and safely, we can save our property and even our lives. Make sure you have insurance and the necessary documentation to recover after a fire, but also take the necessary steps to recover emotionally.


Protective Actions:

  • RACE (Rescue, Alarm, Confine, Extinguish or Evacuate )
  • Get Low and Go
  • Get Out and Stay Out

Before a fire:

  • Install smoke alarms
  • Make a fire escape plan and practice it.
  • Do a home hazard hunt and fix any fire hazards.
  • Learn how to operate a fire extinguisher.
  • Gather and protect important documents for filing an insurance claim.

Home or Building Fires

Home or structure fires can happen any time. Whether from a spark from an electrical wire, an unattended stove or oven, an unattended candle, smoking in the home, or a faulty battery, and many more, our daily lifestyles and behaviors or even faulty technology can start a fire in our living and work spaces. Our preparedness and mitigation can prevent a fire from even starting. But if a fire does start for any reason, and we know how to react quickly and safely, we can save our property and even our lives.

Fire Prevention


  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. Turn off the stove if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time.
  • Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
  • Position barbecue grills at least 10 feet away from siding and deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher available.

Electrical and Appliance Safety

  • Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately and do not run cords under rugs or furniture.
  • Do not overload extension cords or wall outlets.
  • If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
  • Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker.
  • Do not store combustibles near electrical equipment or gas appliances, such as the furnace or water heater.


  • Clean out the lint filter (a.k.a. lint trap) after every load.
  • Clean out the venting system thoroughly from the inside of the dryer to the outside vent cap at least once per year. For gas dryers, consider a blockage monitor.
  • Pay attention to drying time. If it's taking longer than usual for cloths to dry, it's likely there's a vent clog.
  • Periodically check to make sure there are no restrictions in the vent cap areas (where the venting exits your home). Make sure that bushes, debris, snow, and other obstacles are not impeding air flow.

Keeping Children Safe

  • Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
  • Store matches and lighters out of children's reach and sight, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children unattended near operating stoves or burning candles, even for a short time.

Fireplaces and Woodstoves

  • Inspect and clean woodstove pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for damage or obstructions.
  • Use a fireplace screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.
  • Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.

Portable Space Heaters

  • Never have heaters on for long periods of time, especially over night.
  • Switch off the heater if you leave the room.
  • Keep combustible objects at least three feet away from portable heating devices.
  • Only buy heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Check to make sure the portable heater has a thermostat control mechanism and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
  • Only use crystal clear K-1 kerosene in kerosene heaters. Never overfill it. Use the heater in a well-ventilated room away from curtains and other flammable items.
  • Electric blankets: Turn off before going to sleep, and don't leave heavy things on the blanket when it is turned on.

Candles, Incense and Oil Burners

  • Keep away from paper, and open window or a curtain
  • Make sure the candle is out or the oil burner is off before you leave the room.


  • If you smoke, do so outside.
  • Never smoke or allow anyone to smoke where medical oxygen is used.
  • Never leave a cigarette unattended.
  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Make sure buts are fully out and drench them with water before putting them in the trash bin.
  • E-Cigarettes: Fires can occur when e-cigarettes are being used, charged or transported.

Power Outage

  • If you need light, avoid using candles, which can easily cause fires. Use flashlights instead. If you must use a candle use extreme caution and never leave it unattended.
  • When power turns back on sometimes a power surge can cause a spark, so be aware.
  • Portable generators should NEVER be used indoors and should only be refueled outdoors and in well ventilated areas.


  • Excessive accumulation of possessions can impede your escape and make firefighting difficult.
  • Keep your home clean and tidy, and regularly remove junk and unused items.
  • Keep all exits and passageways clear.

More Fire Prevention Tips

  • Never use a stove range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep combustible and flammable liquids away from heat sources.

Before a Fire

Smoke Alarms

A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.

Are there enough smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors (one for each floor)?

Have the batteries been tested and changed as needed?

Does everyone know what to do when the alarm sounds?

  • Replace batteries twice a year, unless you are using 10-year lithium batteries. Some recommend doing it when you’re setting clocks at the start and end of Daylight Savings Time.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.
  • Replace the entire smoke alarm unit every 10 years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking – it can be a deadly mistake.
  • Audible alarms are available for visually impaired people and smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light are available for the hearing impaired.
Create and Practice a Fire Escape Plan

Remember that every second counts in the event of a fire. If a fire starts, you may have less than two minutes to escape safely. Escape plans help you get out of your home quickly. Practice your home fire escape plan twice each year. Some tips to consider when preparing this plan include:

  • Find two ways to get out of each room in the event the primary way is blocked by fire or smoke.
  • Make sure your escape paths are clear and not blocked by clutter, furniture or equipment.
  • Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly and that security bars can be properly opened.
  • Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
  • Teach children not to hide from firefighters.
  • If you use a walker or wheelchair, check all exits to be sure you can get through the doorways.
  • Account for all those who many need extra assistance in your planning, including infants, small children, older adults and individuals with a disability, access or functional needs. Make sure that someone is assigned to help them, if needed, and that everyone can use the escape routes.
  • Choose a safe outside meeting place where everyone will go after they have escaped the fire so that you know everyone is safe.
Fire Safety Tips
  • Make digital copies of valuable documents and records like birth certificates.
  • Sleep with your bedroom door closed.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. Contact your local fire department for assistance on proper use and maintenance.
  • Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.
Learn How To Use a Fire Extinguisher

If a fire does break out and is small enough to handle then owning and knowing how to use a fire extinguisher could save your property and lives.

Have you practiced using a fire extinguisher? Watch this video on how to use a fire extinguisher.

  • Use the correct extinguisher for the type of fire. The most common extinguisher is the ABC extinguisher that can handle most common scenarios.
  • Use a fire extinguisher is it is safe and you feel comfortable doing so. Safe means that the fire is still small enough to handle, usually about the size of an office trash can. Comfortable means you know how to operate the extinguisher.
  • Use the PASS method to extinguish the flames:
    • P - Pull the pin,
    • A - Aim at the base of the fire,
    • S - Squeeze the handle,
    • S - Sweep from side to side.
  • Remeber fires can reignite even after you put them out.
  • If your extinuisher agent has run out, leave the fire.

Who is responsible for checking your fire extinguishers and how often will they do it? When was it last checked?

Are there enough fire extinguishers (one for each floor)?

Get Insurance, Gather Important Documents, and Know How to File a Claim


  • If you are not insured, consider fire insurance for home or property owners, and renters insurance for renters. Be sure you understand what is covered and what is not covered in the insurance policy.
  • If you are insured, contact your insurance company for detailed instructions on protecting your property, conducting inventory and contacting fire damage restoration companies.
  • It is important to understand that insurance is recovery assistance. Insurance does not bring back everything, rather it simply assists you until you can get back up on your own two feet. There will still be an amount you have to cover on your own. Be sure that your emergency cash fund includes this in your budget.

Important Documents:

Filing a Claim

During a Fire

During a fire your primary protective actions to keep in mind is R.A.C.E.  At the very least you should Get Out and Stay Out.

  • R - Rescue: Rescue anyone in immediate danger but never put yourself in danger.
  • A - Alarm: Sound the Alarm by calling 911 and if available activate the fire alarm.
  • C - Confine: Confine the fire by closing all doors and windows.
  • E - Extinguish or Evacuate: Use the fire extinguisher, however if the fire is too large evacuate.
  • Get out and stay out! Leave everything behind and get out as quickly as you can. NEVER go back into a burning building.
  • If smoke or fire blocks one of your ways out, use another way out. If you must go through smoke, Get Low and Go under the smoke to escape.

Here are some additional ideas for what to do during a fire.

  • Drop down to the floor and crawl low, under any smoke to your exit. Heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
  • Before opening a door, feel the doorknob and door. If either is hot, or if there is smoke coming around the door, leave the door closed and use your second way out.
  • If you open a door, open it slowly. Be ready to shut it quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present.
  • Call 9-1-1 once you are out.
  • If you can’t get to someone needing assistance, leave the home and call 9-1-1 or the fire department. Tell the emergency operator where the person is located.
  • If pets are trapped inside your home, tell firefighters right away.
  • If you can’t get out, close the door and cover vents and cracks around doors with cloth or tape to keep smoke out. Call 9-1-1 or your fire department. Say where you are and signal for help at the window with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop and roll – stop immediately, drop to the ground and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out. If you or someone else cannot stop, drop and roll, smother the flames with a blanket or towel. Use cool water to treat the burn immediately for three to five minutes. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Get medical help right away by calling 9-1-1 or the fire department.
  • Let friends and family know your safe.
Small cooking fire:
  • On a stovetop, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
  • For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the oven door closed.
  • If in doubt, just get out! If flames spread to objects beyond the stove or oven, evacuate immediately. When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire.
  • Call 911 from outside the home

After a Fire

  • Contact your local disaster relief service, such as The Red Cross, if you need temporary housing, food and medicines.
  • Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter.
  • DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself. The fire department should make sure that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site.
Recovering Financially
  • File a claim as quickly as possible. Filing quicker means you will receive your claim payments quicker.
  • Contact your insurance agent, broker or insurance company as soon as you can to report how, when and where the damage occurred. Provide a general description of the damage.
  • Notify your mortgage company of the fire.
  • Prepare a list of damaged or lost items and provide receipts if possible. Consider photographing or videotaping the damage where it occurred for further documentation to support your claim.
  • If possible, keep damaged items or portions of those items until the claims adjuster has visited your home. Do not throw away anything you plan
    to claim without discussing it with your adjuster first.
  • Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss such as lodging, repairs or other supplies.. The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company and for verifying losses claimed on your income tax.
  • Make copies of all documents and pictures given to your claims adjuster or insurance company.
  • After you have evaluated the major damages in need of repair, and gathered the required documents, you will need to make an insurance claim. Your insurance company will assign an adjuster to come inspect the property damage. Note that based on the extent of the disaster to the surrounding community, scheduling an evaluation may take a while to complete. While you wait, you may need to make some temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage.  Once the adjuster comes to evaluate the damage, they will provide you with an estimate of funding that will be provided to you. From there a final determination will be made about the costs for necessary repairs and the funding that the insurance company will provide. The Insurance Information Institute has some excellent information on how this process goes
Returning Home After a Fire

Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter. Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions about what the sign means and whether it is safe to enter your home.

Stay safe when returning to your home after a fire:

Caring for Yourself & Loved Ones After a Fire
  • Pay attention to how you and your loved ones are experiencing and handling stress. Promote emotional recovery by following the tips below.
  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Watch pets closely and keep them under your direct control.
  • Help people who require additional assistance- infants and children, older adults, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
Recovering Emotionally
  • Try to return to as many of your personal and family routines as possible.
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water.
  • Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio and in the newspapers.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Recognize your own feelings.
  • Reach out and accept help from others.
  • Do something you enjoy. Do something as a family that you have all enjoyed in the past.
  • Stay connected with your family and/or other support systems.
  • Realize that, sometimes, recovery can take time.

Fire Safety for Kids

Teach your children about home fire safety with the available videos, coloring books, games and more at
Image saying Private Sector Preparedness Council

Emergency Financial First Aid Kit

Download and fill out the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit. Once you complete the kit you will have all your important documents and financial info you need in one place.

Emergency Financial First Aid Kit

American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

  • Sign up to get smoke alarms installed in your home.
  • Invite the Red Cross to your home for a fire prevention home visit.
  • Prepare your family against home fires.
  • Volunteer to help teach fire prevention to others.

Sound the Alarm- Red Cross
Image of a hand pushing an alarm button on a smoke detector with the words, sound the alarm, save a life