You’ve probably heard the stories about people who have fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in their hand and woken up to a house on fire — or who have been pulled out of the charred remains of their home by a fire crew. Those aren’t tall tales: each year, the U.S. Fire Administration documents close to 1,000 cases of individuals killed in home fires started by cigarettes.
Recently, a Westfield, Massachusetts woman was killed by cigarette smoking near a home oxygen system. The fire not only took her life, but caused significant damage to the downtown apartment complex. While smoking should NEVER take place near highly flammable materials such as oxygen systems, fires often still occur in homes without obvious risks.
Aside from quitting smoking, there are a few ways you can try to reduce the chances that you will ever have to deal with a home fire caused by a lit cigarette.
For example, all home alarm systems should have smoke detectors installed and loaded up with fresh batteries — this becomes more important for cigarette smokers as that ringing tone could be the difference that helps you become aware of a fire in time to escape. Test the alarms frequently to ensure proper functionality.
Perhaps more importantly, it is critical to have your fire alarm system monitored. A significant number of smoking-related fires occur when a smoker falls asleep. Stand-alone smoke detectors may not be heard or recognized when they sound an alarm, rendering them inefficient without round-the-clock monitoring. Monitored fire alarm systems not only help against smoking-related fires, but all home fires where your family may be sleeping, or away from the house.
Leaving cigarettes burning unattended is another common cause for house fires associated with smoking. Cigarettes can be knocked out of ashtrays by kids or pets, or simply roll out of ashtrays that aren’t deep enough to provide a safe harbor. Before leaving a room, put out your cigarette or take it with you — don’t count on your ashtray to protect you from a possible fire.
It’s also important to remember to never throw a warm cigarette butt in the trash, as it could spark flammable materials lurking at the bottom of the bag. The majority of cigarette-related fires start in trash cans, on beds, or on other types of furniture. The ultimate prevention, of course — besides quitting — is to smoke outside and avoid the home altogether, although proper disposal of cigarette butts is also key to preventing fires associated with dried leaves and grass.
In a world where a quarter of all victims of cigarette-caused fires aren’t smokers, but rather family members, friends, and those who live under the same roof, it’s important to take the necessary steps to prevent fires whenever possible.
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