In light of recent tragic events, I did a little bit of research about fires in the home, particularly related to homes of hoarders and what I discovered, quite frankly, scared me. Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death for victims of fire in homes; I won’t detail the symptoms of smoke inhalation but they are horrific.
The five products that cause the most electrical fires in UK homes are:
• Electric cooking appliances – cookers and microwaves • Washing machines and tumble dryers
• Electrical lighting • Portable heaters • TVs
In a cluttered kitchen the surfaces will be littered with flammable objects. All of these items are too close to a heat source which makes cooking in a cluttered kitchen a very dangerous thing to do.
Often in a cluttered home it’s difficult to access electrical sockets so extension cables are used. Not only can these overload and become overheated, but they are often walked on, becoming damaged and more likely to set on fire.
A fire can start so easily. Let’s imagine you have candles lit to make a room look cheery; for some reason you leave the candle unattended – maybe you forgot about it and went to bed. The heat from the flame eventually catches something and within a short time that something is smoking and then alight.
The room will very soon fill with smoke; if you have a smoke alarm fitted, by now it should be going crazy and you will have time to escape and call the emergency services.
However, imagine you don’t have an alarm so you’re unaware of what’s going on. The heat in the room will soon be immense and this heat will cause combustion of objects on the other side of the room, nowhere near the flames – for example the sofa, or photographs. Unfortunately, in manufacturing processes, cyanide is used to produce textiles, paper and plastics, it is also used in the chemicals for developing photographs.
Hydrogen cyanide is produced by the combustion of certain materials when there is a lack of oxygen. Humans feel the effects of hydrogen cyanide poisoning within seconds of exposure. Symptoms include weakness and confusion, headache, nausea and difficulty breathing. It is so fast acting that it has the potential to kill within minutes. It was used as a killing agent during World War II…and it’s silently sleeping in our homes.
If you have a very cluttered home then your escape route will be difficult to access or it might be blocked completely. The fire services will have great difficulty entering the property, thus delaying the fire being extinguished – the fire might spread to your neighbour’s homes, the smoke most certainly will. For all of these reasons, you should make sure that your home is not too cluttered. I’m not saying you have to be minimalist but please, make sure your escape route is clear. You should have a functioning smoke detector that you check regularly, change the batteries regularly and replace it every ten years. You should have an escape plan in your home and practice it.
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service offer a free safe and wellbeing check and can fit free smoke alarms.