Skip to content

Avoid House Fire Risks This Winter

Avoid House Fire Risks This Winter Protecting your home and family in the winter is a multi-step process, with most homeowners focusing on preventing burst plumbing pipes, keeping sidewalks, driveways, and other walkways ice-free, and maintaining warm interiors. Yet, protecting against the cold can pose fire risks that can send entire houses up in flames. To keep your home as safe as possible this winter, learn about common fire risks and how to avoid them.

Leading causes of home fires in winter

Between 2015 and 2019, 26% of reported fires happened in residences, with 75% and 72% of civilian fire deaths and injuries caused by home fires, respectively. In 2022, 1,953 people perished in house fires. And while home fires can occur any time of year, they are more common when the weather turns cold. Fires increase during fall and winter, and peak between December and January. The top causes of house fires in winter include:

Cooking

Kitchen fires remain the top reason for household blazes, regardless of the time of year. They account for 49% of home fires and are often caused by grease. This flammable cooking byproduct can reach temperatures of 600 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it combusts. Grease is a notoriously difficult fire to put out, as water has no effect and often makes it worse. Other cooking-related fire causes include portable appliances, such as electric griddles, toasters, and toaster ovens. Crumb accumulations in these appliances can ignite, with damaged cords also accounting for fires.

Heating appliances

Baseboard and portable heaters are the second-leading cause of house fires. Portable heaters can cause blazes if they are plugged into an overloaded power strip or faulty outlet. These appliances also contribute to fires if they are too close to flammable objects, such as curtains, upholstered furniture, and paper products. Any portable heater requiring kerosene is also a fire hazard due to ignition risks. Baseboard heaters increase the probability of fires if they are in direct contact with drapery or other combustible objects.

Candles

It is not uncommon for homeowners to use candles during winter, whether for extra light, holiday ambiance, or both. Candles left unattended can get knocked over by curious children or pet tails, causing blazes. They can also make contact with clothing or other flammable materials, such as table runners.

Gas ovens/ranges

Sadly, one in five U.S. residents with annual income under $30,000 use gas ovens and ranges for household heat. These appliances are meant for cooking and baking exclusively, as using them for heat releases high amounts of carbon dioxide that can cause illness and death. Leaving burners on also pose fire risks, because flammable items such as paper towels and napkins can accidentally make contact with the flames.

Lithium-ion batteries

These batteries are used to power a variety of devices, including smartphones, electric bikes and scooters, toys, cars, e-cigarettes, laptops, and power tools. And while they are not inherently dangerous, defects can cause them to overheat and catch fire. These batteries can also combust while charging, albeit rarely. There have been cases of these batteries causing large fires, such as an e-bike combusting in an apartment and causing a four-alarm blaze.

Christmas trees

As beautiful as Christmas trees are, these holiday decorations become fire hazards if they are not watered regularly. Hot holiday lights on increasingly-dry needles can cause blazes, especially if there are bad wires present or the plugs associated with the tree are overloaded.

Protecting against household fires in winter

While the risk of home fires is greater during the coldest months of the year, there are many ways for individuals and families to protect themselves and subsequently stay safe:

  • Cleaning portable kitchen appliances regularly to prevent crumb buildup
  • Wiping down greasy kitchen tools and pans regularly
  • Never leaving the kitchen while something is cooking
  • Keeping portable heaters away from flammable objects as per manufacturer instructions
  • Using the right fuel for space heaters
  • Ensuring drapes and other flammable items are not near baseboard heaters
  • Never overloading power strips or outlets, or running cords under rugs
  • Smoking outdoors instead of in the house
  • Never leaving candles unattended and using alternatives, such as battery-powered flameless candles
  • Using LED lights instead of hot incandescent lights on Christmas trees
  • Refraining from charging devices under pillows or other flammable objects
  • Charging a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery despite signs of swelling or overheating
  • Not leaving Li-ion-powered devices in the direct sun
  • Recycling Li-ion batteries at the appropriate facilities
  • Not allowing old Li-ion batteries to remain in piles
  • Checking cords and wires for fraying before using them
  • Testing smoke alarms every month
  • Never using outdoor cooking and heating equipment, such as grills, indoors

It is also helpful to learn what puts out various household fires effectively. For example, if a grease fire in the kitchen occurs, the flames must be smothered. Water causes the fire to spread, making it necessary to eliminate the blaze with a metal pan lid or baking soda and salt. Additionally, any serious fire is for professionals to put out. Homeowners who attempt to dampen large fires themselves risk serious, if not fatal, injuries.

Insurance company disputes over fire-related property damage

If your Chicago home sustains serious damage from a fire and your insurance company refuses to cover your property loss claim, contact an attorney. A property damage lawyer will help you resolve the dispute quickly and work to secure the compensation you deserve. If the legal professional can prove the insurance carrier acted in a “unreasonable and vexatious” manner, you could recover not only the original claim amount, but sanctions up to $60,000 depending on your specific case.

To schedule a free property damage case evaluation, contact Gainsberg Law P.C. today. Our Chicago lawyers are highly skilled at resolving insurance claim disputes. Call our office or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today. We serve clients throughout Cook County.