Fires in the home

Stationary fire engine with a fireman's helmet hung up in the foreground.

Most fires in the home start accidentally. Cooking accidents are the main cause of fires in the home. Faulty electrical appliances cause thousands of fires in the home each year. Smoking and candles also cause fires. Taking some time to understand why fires start in the first place and what you can do to prevent them, will help keep you, other people and your property safe.

Who is most at risk?

Fires in the home can affect anyone, but some people may face a higher risk of being impacted by a fire. Some of the groups who may be most at risk are: 

  • Older adults.
  • Those who live alone.
  • People who smoke and drink at home.
  • People with disabilities, physical mobility issues or mental health conditions.

Actions to take before to best prepare against fire in the home

  • Complete your own online home fire safety check.
  • Fit smoke alarms on every floor of your home and test them at least monthly to ensure they are working – you are ten times more likely to die in a fire if you do not have any working smoke alarms in your home. 
  • If you are in Scotland the law on heat and smoke alarms was changed in 2022 and you should make yourself familiar with the new required standards.
  • Plan and practise an escape route and make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency and how to escape.
  • Keep flammable items (such as loose clothing, tea towels and kitchen roll) away from the cooker. 
  • If you’re very tired, have been drinking alcohol or are taking medication that might make you drowsy, it’s safer not to risk cooking. 
  • Do not overload plug sockets and look for signs of dangerous or loose wiring. 
  • When charging electrical goods (including phones, laptops, e-bikes and e-scooters) follow the manufacturer’s instructions, use a compatible charger and do not charge them along your escape route.
  • Keep portable heaters clear from curtains and furniture and never use them to dry clothes.
  • Make sure candles are secured in a proper holder and away from materials that may catch fire – like curtains. 

You are more at risk from a fire when asleep so it’s a good idea to check your home before you go to bed. You should: 

  • close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading
  • turn off and unplug electrical appliances unless they are designed to be left on – like your freezer
  • check your cooker is turned off
  • not leave the washing machine or dryer on
  • turn heaters off and put up fireguards
  • put candles and cigarettes out properly
  • make sure exits and exit routes are kept clear
  • keep door and window keys where everyone can find them

If you have or look after children:

  • Teach children how to prevent a fire and what to do if there is one. You will probably need to talk about fire safety with children more than once to make sure that they have remembered and understood what you have taught them. 
  • Make sure children know what your smoke alarm sounds like when it goes off – you can involve them in your monthly tests. 
  • You can practise the ‘Stop, drop and roll’ technique with children so they know what to do if their clothes catch fire. Stop – don’t run around, you’ll make the flames worse, Drop – lie down on the floor, Roll – roll around, it makes it harder for flames to spread. 
  • Do not leave children in the kitchen alone when cooking and keep matches and saucepan handles turned inwards and out of reach. 
  • The Home Office has developed a leaflet for parents and carers on fire safety which contains some useful tips. 
  • The Staywise website has some resources and games to help educate children about fire safety.

Actions to take during a fire in the home

  • Don’t tackle fires yourself. Leave it to the professionals. Get out, stay out, call 999.
  • Act quickly, get everyone out as soon as possible. Do not assume that everyone has heard the smoke alarm, particularly at night. Some children may not be woken by smoke alarms. 
  • Don’t waste time investigating what’s happened or rescuing valuables.
  • If there’s smoke, keep low where the air is clearer.
  • Before you open a door, check if it’s warm. If it is, don’t open it – fire is on the other side.
  • If you can, close doors behind you as you leave.  Even a regular door can stop the spread of fire for long enough to allow the firefighters to extinguish it before it destroys your property.
  • If your home is close to other properties, you should also alert your neighbours.

What to do if your escape route is blocked

  • If you can’t get out, get everyone into one room, ideally with a window and a phone.
  • Put bedding around the bottom of the door to block out the smoke.
  • Call 999 then open the window and shout “HELP FIRE”.

What to do if your clothes catch fire

  • Don’t run around, you’ll make the flames worse.
  • Lie down and roll around. It makes it harder for the fire to spread.
  • Smother the flames with a heavy material, like a coat or blanket.
  • Remember, ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’.

Further information and resources

Fire England publishes advice on fire safety in the home

The Home Office has produced fire safety advice for different groups of people inside and outside the home, and seasonal advice

You can also watch a video on fire safety at home at the Home Office ‘Fire Kills’ campaign site. 

The devolved administrations provide their own guidance on fire safety in the home. People in Scotland can visit the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. People in Northern Ireland can visit Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. For those in Wales, you can find your local fire and rescue service and get a free home safety check.