How to prevent house fires and how to react if they happen

·3 min read

A fire that claimed the lives of four people and injured several others in east-end Toronto early Friday is shining a spotlight on issues of fire safety.

As of Jan. 18, there had been 14 fire-related deaths in Ontario in 2021, according to data from the province's fire marshal. Friday's fire brings that number to at least 18, outpacing the 14 recorded in all of January 2020.

Last year, the province recorded 114 fire deaths, compared to an average of about 84 between 2009 and 2018.

Kristy Denette, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Fire Marshal, said it's important to be prepared for a potential house fire. Here are some of her tips on fire safety.

What are the leading causes of fatal house fires?

House fires most often originate in the kitchen, Denette said.

"Typically because cooking is left unattended," she said. "People get distracted by the TV or the phone and simply forget about what's cooking on the stove. And once distracted, it takes no time at all for the oils heating a pan to become so hot, the fire starts and spreads to other parts of the kitchen."

Fire victims are often surprised by how devastating kitchen fires can be, she said.

"It can basically destroy your whole kitchen in a matter of moments, and even injure or kill someone," she said.

What can people do to prepare for a fire?

Everyone should check at least once a month that their smoke alarms are working, Denette said.

"Smoke alarms can be the difference between living or dying in a fire," she said.

"Fire spreads so quickly that you may have less than 60 seconds to escape a fire in your home, so that means you need to be alerted to the fire as soon as possible."

By law, she noted, there needs to be a smoke alarm on every floor of a house and outside all sleeping areas.

People should also be cognizant of heating safety, she said. Most fatal fires happen in the wintertime, when furnaces and fireplaces are more likely to be running.

Residents should have all fuel-burning appliances inspected annually, and make sure chimneys and exhaust vents for furnaces are free of debris.

Ashes from the fireplace should be allowed to cool before they're emptied into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid, which should be kept outside, she said.

People should also develop a fire escape plan, Denette said, ideally with at least two ways out of each room.

Someone should also be in charge of helping young kids, older adults and people with disabilities safely out of the home, she said.

People should also designate a meeting area outside the home where everyone can be accounted for, and someone should be in charge of calling 911, she said.

What should people do if a fire breaks out?

In addition to following the escape plan, Denette said it's important that people don't try to fight the fire themselves.

For instance, Denette said, if a pan catches fire in the kitchen, don't try to take that pan outside. That can lead to severe burns, which can be fatal.

"Just get everyone out of the house and let the professionals do it," she said. "Call 911 in an emergency."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press