Attached garage fires accounted for about 2% of all residential building fires reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System from 2009 to 2011. Overall, 2% might not seem like a lot, but it equates to 6,600 individual fires resulting in 30 deaths, 400 injuries and $457 million in property damage.
Fires that originate in garages may take longer to be detected (not many people think to put a smoke detector in their attached garage) - and many times such a fire has the opportunity to grow large before help arrives. Adding to the potential danger is the fact that attached garages are the storage sites for many of the hazardous materials we wouldn’t dream of keeping in our kitchens or bedrooms. Flammable liquids such as gasoline, motor oil, brake fluid, varnish, paint thinner, lighter fluid and other chemicals produce fumes that can easily be ignited. A single, devastating spark can come from many sources, including a water heater, boiler, clothes dryer, car battery, 9-volt batteries, light bulbs, or electrical cords left plugged into a wall outlet.
What steps can you take to prevent a garage fire?
Becoming aware of the potential danger is the first important step to preventing a serious threat to your home and family. Following are some tangible steps you can take to keep your home and family safe.
Store flammable liquids in clearly labeled containers – and only in small amounts. Keep the containers away from heaters, appliances, pilot lights, direct sunlight and other sources of heat or flame.
NEVER store propane tanks indoors. They have the potential to explode when exposed to high heat. Propane tanks are sturdy enough to be stored outside, out of direct sunlight.
The garage floor should be free of debris and clutter such as loose papers, oily rags and any other potentially flammable items.
Cars parked in the garage may leak flammable fluids onto the garage floor. Keep the garage floor clean of these fluids.
Use light bulbs appropriate for the garage fixtures. Using inappropriate wattage can cause light bulbs to spark or even explode.
Do not overload electrical outlets. More importantly, unplug any electrical appliances or tools when not in use. Wrap all frayed electrical wires securely with electrician’s tape. Also, make sure that all electrical outlets are up to code and properly grounded.
Do not install a pet door from the garage to the house. A garage fire can more easily spread to the rest of the house through a pet door.
Check the joints and open spaces around the door leading from the garage to the house. Caulk or add weather stripping to prevent dangerous fumes from entering your home. Always keep the door between the garage and house closed.
Be aware that fertilizers, pesticides and other lawn care materials can contain agents that may become highly flammable and combustible, especially when exposed to direct sunlight over an extended period of time.
Be proactive and always be on the lookout for home hazards. Using common sense and taking the steps above will go a long way towards keeping you and your family safe and secure.