A family in my neighborhood recently returned home from dinner one evening to find their house in flames. The unlikely incendiary? The family dog-turned-chef, apparently.
Smoke alarms, escape plans, fire safe kitchen practices — these standard preparation tips do lower your risk of loss from a home fire.
Still, home fires are more common than you might realize. They made up more than a quarter of reported fires from 2015 to 2019, unexpectedly sparked by anything from stovetops to candles. And given climate change, more people are now facing the reality of wildfires.
So, how prepared are you to prevent a fire in your home and for what happens afterward? Here, we’ll provide a few home fire safety tips and explain how to start thinking about protecting your valuables in case of emergency.
To Prepare for Fires, Focus on Fire Prevention
Because the right preparation can protect your home, your valuables, and your family, let’s start by understanding the most common cause of fires in the home: about 49 percent start in the kitchen.
To prevent kitchen fires, never leave your stove top unattended while cooking, and double-check that every burner is off once you’re done. Act with extra caution based on your stove’s heat source – electric ranges are the leading cause of cooking fires.
If a fire does break out, you’ll need a functioning alert system and a path for escape. Look to the American Red Cross for tips on how to prepare your home before a fire breaks out.
Don’t Neglect Wildfire Prevention in Fire-Prone Areas
In addition to following standard home fire safety tips, some people may want to protect against wildfires. Despite being virtually inevitable in many places, 48 percent of people living in fire-prone areas have not made an emergency plan to mitigate wildfire damage.
California's North Complex Fire, which killed 15 people and did $450 million in damage, as seen on September 8, 2020 from a PG&E Alert Wildfire camera. (Image credit: Nevada Seismological Laboratory)
To prepare your home as wildfire season approaches, the National Fire Protection Association and Ready.gov suggest you:
- Use Class A fire-rated materials on your home’s exterior.
- Remove flammable materials from your deck or porch.
- Clear debris and trim vegetation at least 30 feet from your home.
- Identify an outdoor water source w/ a hose attachment.
- Find an airtight room with an air purifier in case of smoky conditions.
Whether it’s because of a grease fire or wildfire, it can be costly to repair fire damage to your home. Don’t wait until you smell smoke to think about how to cover potential costs.
Instead, make sure you have the right insurance coverage before an emergency situation crops up. If you’re a renter, make sure you have a rental insurance policy that covers wildfire damage, if it is available to you. Similarly, homeowners in fire-prone areas, confirm that your homeowner’s insurance policy includes wildfire coverage.
If Your Home Catches Fire, Which Valuables Matter Most?
When fires break out, we first think of protecting our families and homes before our belongings. However, certain valuable documents are important to have on hand to help you navigate emergencies and get you back on your feet. It can be difficult to replace these documents if they’re destroyed by fire, so they’re worth keeping safe from fire.
Which documents need to be protected from fire damage? Consider these:
- Insurance info
- Powers of attorney
- Birth certificates
- Adoption papers
Each item matters once you’ve made it to safety. You’ll need your insurance information if you require medical attention, while powers of attorney make sure the right people are speaking for you during an emergency. Keeping these documents safe now can give you peace of mind in the future.
In addition to essential documents, you may also want to physically protect your sentimental valuables and mementos. Which ones might matter most to you in a fire? Think about:
- Family heirlooms
- Vinyl collections
- College diplomas
- Family photos and albums
No matter how important the item, you won’t have time to gather all these things during a fire. That’s why you should make sure your most valuable items are always secure. To start, consider getting a fireproof safe to keep at home. Storing your important items in a lock box away from the property is a next-level security option.
Supplement your insurance policy with scheduled personal property coverage to insure jewelry, fine art, and other expensive belongings.
Keep Tabs on Your Valuables with a Cloud-based Vault
If you do experience a home fire, once you’ve made it to safety you should be able to locate where everything is to quickly determine what can be salvaged and what needs replacing.
The best way to track where your items are is with a Cloud-based Vault. The vault should provide the ability to:
- Record the locations of each document or item.
- Include pictures of items that can’t be digitized.
- Access info about your essential items from anywhere on the go.
- Know your information is safe with multi-factor authentication.
With a Cloud-based Vault, you can track analog items, such as lockboxes and safes, in addition to digital passwords and photo albums. When all of your information is cataloged in one place, you can access it at any time and from anywhere to feel prepared every day. After an emergency, you’ve already made it easier to get back on your feet.