PUBLISHED: 9:13 AM on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Home fires: America's biggest disaster threat

Courtesy photo
  Home fires, known as the silent disaster, are the single most common disaster across the nation.
What disaster does the American Red Cross respond to more than any other? An American Red Cross poll discovered that 80 percent of Americans do not realize that home fires are the single most common disaster and only 26 percent of families have developed and practiced a home fire escape plan.

The American Red Cross responded to more than 73,000 disasters nation wide last year and 92 percent of these were fire related. Home fires, known as the silent disaster, are the single most common disaster across the nation.

In the United States, a home fire is reported every 79 seconds and every two and a half-hours, someone is killed in a home fire. With 20,000 people injured every year in a home fire and 70 percent of fire-related deaths occurring in homes with non-working smoke alarms or no smoke alarms, the most important piece of equipment you can have is properly installed and maintained smoke detectors.

Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires in the United States and usually begin with the range or stove, so be sure to keep that area clear of combustibles, such as paper and towels.

Heating fires are reported to be the second leading cause of home fires and generally result from malfunctioning central heating units, fixed or portable heating units, fireplaces, chimneys and water heaters. Fixed and portable heating units such as wood stoves and space heaters are involved in 74 percent of fire related deaths with space heaters accounting for 66 percent of all home fires. It is important to make sure that all heating sources are kept clean and away from flammable materials.

Preventing a home fire does not require a lot of equipment or training, and there are several simple steps each of us can take to protect our homes and families. Install smoke alarms outside each sleeping area and on each additional level of your home. Change smoke detector batteries once a year and do a monthly test to insure all smoke alarms are working properly.

Create a home fire escape plan that includes two ways to escape every room in your home including the purchasing and storing of escape ladders for second and third floors. Select a safe place to meet outside of your home. Talk to children about the plan and then practice it at least twice a year.

If smoke or fire is blocking the primary escape route, use the second. If you must exit through smoke, stay low to the ground crawling on your hands and knees. If escaping through a closed door, feel the door with the back of your hand before opening it; if it's warm, use your second way out. In the event that smoke and flames block both of your exits, stay in the room with the door closed and signal for help using a brightly colored piece of cloth. If there is a phone, dial 911 and give emergency personal your location within the home. To remain safe during a fire, the Red Cross recommends that once you have escaped your home to remain out of the house.

The American Red Cross of Alaska Southeast District is committed to not only respond to these silent disasters and helping to meet the immediate needs of home fire victims but also to teach people the skills to keep them safe from home fires and other disasters.

The organization has responded to 11 home fires in the Southeast District since January with further response throughout the state of Alaska, including the Hooper Bay fire. It is committed to educating those in our community to help prevent and prepare for home fires.

The American Red Cross of Alaska also provides fire preparedness training to the youngest community members within the classroom as well as for those who are older and would like to learn more. Contact the office to see how it can help your group, school or community become better educated about prevention and preparedness. To find out more on fire safety, go online to or call at (907) 463-5713.

Governed by volunteers and supported by community donations, the American Red Cross of Alaska is dedicated to saving lives and helping Alaskans prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Led by over 1,500 volunteers and 27 employees, last year the American Red Cross of Alaska mobilized relief to over 1,050 Alaskans affected by disaster, trained over 32,000 people in lifesaving skills, taught over 78,500 Alaskans how to be better prepared for disasters, and exchanged more than 4,100 emergency messages for U.S. military service personnel and their families. For more information about the American Red Cross of Alaska, please visit our website at