Do’s and Don’ts to Reduce Fire Risk in Summer
Summer is a nontraditional and unlikely time to take steps to reduce fire risk. Usually, we talk about fires in the fall, especially October which is the traditional fire prevention month here in Minnesota. However, more people are working from home now, and fire chiefs and Lindstrom’s own experience tell us fires are occurring more frequently in summer. So, in lieu of the usual storm-filled and rainy summer weather, perhaps fire prevention makes sense, especially in the very dry and hot weeks we’ve been experiencing lately.
It’s true people light fewer candles in warmer weather, so we can discount this major cause of fire. Smoking indoors is always a fire risk, but since people spend more time outdoors in the summer that too is a lesser factor. But other risks loom. Cooking remains the number one risk of fires this time of year. Adding to the risk is more seasonal grilling outside and the increased use of smokers and peanut oil fryers.
Anecdotes abound. We know one individual who decided to turn on his grill first before cleaning it. He then got involved in another task and after that decided to run an errand. This was followed by a few cocktails, and you know the rest of that story. The following day panic hit when he realized he never turned off the grill. Fortunately, the propane tank emptied without incident and the fire was extinguished. The results could have been tragic. Regular cleaning of grills and smokers to remove built-up grease is a good idea but requires your singular attention.
Fire pits are another issue. Some are too close to the home and sparks and wind can cause fires. When told by his youthful son that he couldn’t get the fire pit going, one foolish homeowner resorted to pouring gas on the wood. Tragically, the resulting explosion gave a college student 3rd degree burns over a major part of his body. Yes, people do stupid things. Fire pits should be started without accelerants and should be extinguished after use.
This summer has been historically dry in the Metro Area and presents a heightened fire risk. In addition to fire pits, which are predictable sources for fires, many people don’t realize how flammable pots are with peat moss. A carelessly tossed cigarette in a flower pot which dried out in 90-degree plus heat caused an entire south suburban restaurant to be totaled. Dried-out grass can get lit quickly with hot motors, sparks, and lightning. Speaking of the latter, lightning strikes are a usual source of fire in the spring and summer. Unfortunately, there is not much to do about that except install lightning protection systems. We wrote about that in our May blog.
The proliferation of Fourth of July amateur fireworks at home is increasing more fire risk in our neighborhoods, especially during a summer as dry as this one is. Fire departments gird themselves for more fire calls during Independence Day celebration weekends. Do-it-yourself fireworks can be fraught with user error and resulting injuries and fire. Misguided rockets go sideways into people and areas that may have high fire risk. Extreme caution is advised.
Most enjoy the nostalgia that fireworks bring and many entertain friends and family on the 4th, but we’ll remind you many fireworks are illegal in Minnesota. To be safe, simply leave fireworks to the professionals and avoid irritating neighbors who may have post-traumatic stress, pet or children reaction issues.
Painting goes on all year round, but in the warmer weather, some homeowners use oil-based paint and stain to do exterior work. Oily rags are then tossed in the trash in garages causing a heat-generating chemical reaction. Care should be taken to put oil-saturated rags in metal containers and store them safely outside. Alternatively, you can thoroughly wash rags with water and detergent and lay them flat to dry in a well-ventilated area. Lindstrom Restoration has seen several fires that were the result of improperly stored or tossed rags. One homeowner, realizing it was his own fault, literally wept in horror when the Fire Chief asked him if had thrown oily rags in a garage garbage can.
Since more people now work from home, the chances of fires increase significantly. There are several factors why this is occurring. Let’s start with double tasking.
You’d think a fire restoration company employee would know better than to attempt cooking and working simultaneously, but the quest for productivity causes even the most fire prevention cognizant to use poor judgment.
This blog writer got a call at lunchtime from his spouse requesting that he whip up some rice for dinner later. Most people realize that requests from bosses and spouses are usually non-negotiable. This “ask” fit such a category and it was deemed that eating lunch while cooking rice on the stove was a good use of time, except when an important client calls and the cell phone is upstairs. The thought was, to run upstairs, answer the phone, then scamper downstairs with cell in hand and continue stirring the rice. These are called good intentions that go awry.
In theory, prudent planning works. But then life happens. A frantic insured has an emergency water damage call requiring full attention and listening. As that is happening, suddenly the family dog starts barking causing the now totally distracted employee to close the door to avoid an unprofessional moment. Seconds after the call concludes, the smoke alarm starts blasting away, and the smell of pungent, burnt rice fills the air. A sprint down the stairs indicates that luckily, a fire has been averted, but the results could have been different in a few seconds. So much for multitasking, dinner rice, and the pan. We speculate that many employers are now reconsidering empty office buildings.
Working from home adds other dangers. Rooms not intended for the workplace are converted for more electronic devices. More equipment chargers are in place, outlets and cords are sometimes overloaded, and some owners put carpet over cords to reduce trip hazards. Extension cords are plugged into extension cords causing overheating. Coffee makers or heating plates are relocated to office areas to add convenience and comfort. Unfortunately, this adds another element of hazard.
The advice to reduce fire risk? Avoid long-term extension cord use indoors, do not cover cords with rugs or papers, and make sure outlets aren’t overloaded. Monitor chargers when used, if possible, but make sure devices aren’t overheating. Plugged-in laptops used in beds or on cloth can increase fire risk. Electronics are not designed to be smothered.
Of course, the usual fire prevention measures make good common sense all year whether people are indoors more or not. For a refresher on those, see our Lindstrom blog on “Post Graduate Fire Prevention Tips” (insert link) from October 2022. Your local fire department has great information on the topic as does the National Fire Protection Association. Here is their link: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Publications-and-media/Press-Room/Reporters-Guide-to-Fire-and-NFPA/Key-Fire-Safety-Tips
Some insurance agents often kid that we restoration companies long for more fires since it’s our business. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you are as intimately involved with the devastating and sometimes tragic human and property consequences of fire, no decent human being would wish this on their worst enemy.
Lindstrom Restoration is there, however, if the worst happens. Many local fire departments refer us for board-ups because they know we can be depended on to do the job quickly and professionally and later can be relied on for great workmanship in the clean-up and repair process. We’re always ready 24/7/365 when you need us. Enjoy summer but stay safe!