House fires have the potential to threaten lives and property.
ACT Fire & Rescue responds to more than 200 house and structure fires each year. Fire can take hold in as little as three-minutes and cause significant damage.
During the winter months, ACT Fire & Rescue urges the Canberra community to take extra care to prevent house fires.
Basic Firefighting Equipment
ACT Fire & Rescue recommends that all households have a fire extinguisher and or fire blanket easily accessible in the kitchen.
The most versatile extinguisher is a Dry Powder (ABE) which can be used on flammable materials, flammable liquids, and electrical equipment.
Never put water on a fat or cooking fire. Fire blankets, or a pot lid can be used to smother flames.
Only use a fire blanket or fire extinguisher within the first few seconds of ignition if you feel confident doing so.
If fire takes hold, get out, stay out, and call Triple-Zero (000).
Did you know?
Most house fires start in the kitchen. Open flames, hot-surfaces, and electrical appliances are common ignition sources.
Don’t Stop Looking While You’re Cooking
Kitchen fires started by unattended cooking is the most common fire threat to the home.
The number one thing to do to prevent fires in the kitchen is to keep your stove top and oven clean and clear of anything that might easily catch fire.
These include aerosols, cleaning products, alcohol and cooking oils, which should be stored away from heat. Items on the counter top can allow fire that might have started in a pan to spread somewhere else.
Make sure pot and panhandles are facing away from you to avoid getting knocked over, keep an eye on children and pets in the kitchen.
The Fire Risk is Higher With a Neglected Dryer
Clothes dryers can be a source of ignition for fire. Make sure you clean the lint filter before and after every load.
The filter acts as a conduit for hot air, leaving the dryer. If it gets blocked, it’s possible for the built up lint to catch fire.
Most dryers have two filters, one internally and one on the front. Yours might be found on the side or could even be vented externally.
It’s always a good idea to switch off appliances like you dryer when you leave home, or go to sleep.
If something goes wrong, it’s best that you’re at home to call for help.
Always Stay One Metre from the Heater
Living in Canberra, a heater is a must have at home. That’s why it’s important we all stay safe with these appliances and prevent fires.
Never place anything on top of the heater, or within one meter. If the heater gets turned on, clothes or other items covering the heater could catch fire.
If your heater is built into the house, make sure it’s installed by a qualified tradesperson and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
It’s best to only use portable heaters that have automatic safety switches that turn the heater off if it’s tipped over.
A Forgotten Flame Can End in a Shame
Fires can be both good and bad. A candle? Well, that’s a good fire. But a house fire? Definitely bad.
Always keep candles at least one meter away from flammable household items.
It’s really important to think about the surface you place your candle on. Try and avoid flammable materials and always use a candle holder appropriate for your needs.
Always remember to put candles out before leaving home or going to bed.
Did you know that a fire from a forgotten candle can get out of control in as little as 3 minutes?
Electric Blankets Are Neat Until They Overheat
Electric blankets are a great way to stay warm, but it’s important to follow some simple tips to stay safe.
Before using your electric blanket, check for any discolouration or marks caused by overheating or signs of wear and tear
Be sure to check the cord and plug. If there’s any damage, it’s simple, don’t use it.
The safest way to enjoy your electric blanket is to turn it on half an hour before going to bed and then turn it off when you go to sleep.
Don’t Go Overboard With Your Power Cords
The most common cause of electrical fires is damaged wiring. By checking the cord every time you use your appliance, you can prevent fires.
If it’s damaged, make sure you stop using the appliance straight away.
Be sure not to overload your outlets. Not only is overloading a fire hazard, but if too many appliances are plugged in, it can even damage your devices.
The Fire Risk is Larger With a Mishandled Charger
Make sure to give your devices some clear space while charging.
Phones caught under blankets, or a laptop buried in a couch can easily overheat.
Never use a damaged or faulty charger. While it’s unplugged, feel along the full length of the cord checking for any cuts or fraying.
If you notice anything unusual like excessive heat or swelling. It’s simple: Stop using the charger immediately.
Stay With Your Fire Pit Whenever It’s Lit
Make sure your fire pit is situated in a suitable position away from combustible materials.
You should also have a water source handy or a fire extinguisher to quickly gain control of the fire if needed.
Before you light up, be sure to check the weather and don’t use the fire pit if it’s too windy or there’s a total fire ban.
In the ACT, fire pits only permitted for cooking or for warmth.
Did you know that neglected embers which aren’t extinguished could still reignite even after 12 hours?
There are a number of easy steps you can undertake to keep safe in your apartment or high rise buildings.
Plan for a fire or emergency
- Your home escape plans will be a little different to the average single storey house. Think of the following tips before you have a fire in your apartment building:
- Familiarise yourself with your building’s fire escape plan. If you cannot find one speak to your owner’s corporation
- Know where the fire exits, fire stairs and firefighting equipment are located. Only use firefighting equipment if you feel confident and safe in doing so
- Make an escape plan with your family and other occupants. Include a back-up option in case your initial plan of escape is blocked. Also include an arranged safe meeting place outside the building
What to do in case of a fire
- Stay calm and get everyone out as quickly as possible.
- Respond immediately when alerted to a fire in your building. Evacuate to your pre-planned safe meeting place.
- Don’t waste time investigating what’s happened or trying to save valuables.
- Don’t use lifts in a fire. Use emergency exits or fire stairs. Fire stairs provide a path leading you to a safe place away from the building.
- Get out, stay out and call Triple Zero (000). Never go back inside a burning building.
Fire safety on balconies
You can reduce the risk of fires occurring on your balconies by following the steps below to ensure your safety and prevent property damage.
- Always store gas bottles outside, upright and away from sources of heat. Always turn off the gas bottle when not in use.
- When using a barbeque maintain a safe distance of 1m from exterior walls, anything else that could burn, as well as any electrical ignition sources.
- Smokers should use heavy, high-sided ashtrays (made of glass, ceramic or metal) to prevent them tipping over. Always fully extinguish cigarettes.
- Remove rubbish, clutter and flammable items from balconies and keep furniture away from exterior walls.
- Keep all materials including clothes at least 1 metre clear of air conditioner units.
- Keep a dry powder fire extinguisher easily accessible. Use only in case of a small fire and if you feel physically and mentally able.
Before use, ensure you clean the barbecue thoroughly and check all gas and electric connections for cracks, splits and wear.
You can check for leaks by spraying soapy water on the connections. A bubble will form if there is a leak.
Do not use a barbecue inside a garage or other enclosed area due to the potential build up of harmful smoke and fumes.
To avoid grease fires, ensure that the grease pan or dripping pan is cleaned regularly.
Face the facts
Cooking on a barbecue usually involves gas or electricity with high temperatures, so you should take the following precautions:
- Set up the barbecue on a firm level base in a well ventilated area, away from flammable objects;
- Keep children and pets at least two metres away from the barbecue when cooking;
- Use long-handled barbecue utensils and flameproof mitts;
- Do not light a barbecue with the lid closed;
- Keep a fire extinguisher, fire blanket or garden hose nearby in case of fire;
- Do not wear loose-fitting clothing when cooking;
- Make sure you turn off the gas cylinder when you have finished;
- Never leave the barbecue unattended when cooking;
- Do not use petrol to light wooden fuel barbecues.
Candles, when used safely, create ambiance, but can also create a fire risk.
If you must use candles, keep burning candles one metre away from furniture, drapes, bedding, carpet and other flammable materials.
Always use a proper candleholder that is heat resistant, sturdy and large enough to hold dripping wax, especially on wooden furniture or cloth-covered surfaces.
Flashlights and battery powered lights are a safer light source than candles during a power failure.
Face the facts
Candles used for any reason including decoration, aromatherapy or lighting can pose a fire risk.
- Make sure candles are extinguished when leaving the room or going to sleep;
- Never let children have lit candles in their room;
- Do not have candles where they can be knocked over by children or pets,
- Never spray an aerosol can near a candle;
- Keep matches and lighters high up and out of the way of children;
- Try to avoid walking with a candle ; and
- Do not put candles on windowsills.
Clothes dryers in Canberra are very useful, but they can also be a source of ignition for a fire if not used correctly.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions especially with installation.
Do not use the dryer if it is making unusual noises, for example rubbing/grinding sounds or if the timer is not functioning properly.
Face the facts
Clothes dryers can be source of ignition for a fire. It is important to follow some basic rules when using a clothes dryer.
- Do not overload your clothes dryer;
- Do not put dripping wet clothes into a dryer;
- Clean the lint filter regularly;
- Do not turn on the dryer then leave the house;
- Do not place clothes or other items on or around the clothes dryer;
- Make sure the area where the clothes dryer is being used is well-ventilated.
Electric blankets are a potential fire hazard if not used and stored correctly.
Do not leave electric blankets turned on during the day, as objects such as clothes, pets, bedding or other heavy objects can cause overheating and fires.
Electric blankets should be turned on half an hour before going to bed and then turned off when getting into bed.
If you remove your electric blanket during the summer months, ensure that it is stored correctly. Electric blankets should be rolled not folded. Alternatively, leave the blanket on the bed, as it will remain flat.
Face the facts
Follow these tips to reduce the risk of a fire in your home:
- Inspect the electric blanket for discolouration caused by overheating or wear and tear before use (brown spots may indicate the blanket is overheating);
- Make sure the controls are not twisted or caught between the mattress and the bed base;
- Never sleep with the electric blanket on;
- Electric blankets are not recommended for use where bed wetting may occur;
- Be especially diligent when children are using electric blankets;
- Do not wrap the electric blanket around yourself.
Face the facts
To prevent this from happening:
- Never overload power points;
- Never connect power boards or double adaptors together;
- Check power boards for signs of damage or discolouration. If found, discard immediately.
- Buy quality power boards with an overload protection device or RCD; and
- Provide adequate ventilation around the power boards.
- we recommend hiring a licensed electrician to install power points to avoid excessive bills
For more tips on electrical safety, phone 132 281 or visit ActewAGL
Careless disposal of smoking materials and cigarettes can cause fires to occur. Most smoking fires start in the bedroom, living room or office when cigarettes or burning embers are dropped on upholstered furniture, bedding or into rubbish containers.
Before leaving a room where people have been smoking, carefully check between lounge chair crannies and under cushions. A cigarette can smoulder in furniture and go unnoticed for up to five hours and still cause a fire.
Be especially watchful of any smoker who is drinking alcohol or is sick in bed and may be smoking.
Keep a watchful eye on elderly or handicapped persons who smoke. Being physically impaired can increase the likelihood of smoking material causing a fire.
Face the facts
- Not allowing smoking in the home is the safest way to prevent fires;
- If you do smoke inside the home have plenty of ashtrays available;
- Ashtrays that are large and deep are the safest;
- When cleaning and empting ashtrays into the bin, make sure all cigarette butts are completely extinguished;
- Never smoke in bed;
- Keep matches and lighters away from children;
- Teach children to inform an adult of the location of any matches and lighters they find; and
- Always have a working smoke alarm in your home, especially if people smoke inside.
The festive season brings a number of extra fire risks to the community and your family.
Face the facts
Here are some precautions you should take to keep your family and friends safe during the Christmas period.
- Check Christmas lights carefully for frayed wires, bare spots in insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up.
- Do not overload electrical circuits or power boards.
- Dispose of live tress quickly after the Christmas period before they dry out and become a fire hazard. Also dispose of wrapping paper quickly and safety.
- If bulbs blow in Christmas decorations, replace them quickly;
- Do not leave Christmas lights on when you go out or when you go to bed;
- Do not let bulbs touch anything that can burn easily, like paper or other decorations;
- Use only non-flammable or flame-retardant artificial trees and decorations;
- Do not place candles near trees, decorations, presents or other flammable objects;
- Do not use party poppers, silly string or other party streamers where there are naked flames from candles etc;
- Please make sure all guests know your home safety plan when they are staying in your home, including exits, where keys for deadlocks are kept and the location of fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
Heaters are an essential item in Canberra but, if not used correctly, they can cause fires.
Heating safety involves correct installation and maintenance, the supervision of children and pets, safe clearance distances, use of correct fuels and adherence to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Keep heaters well clear of items that might burn. A minimum of one metre clearance from clothes, bedding furniture, curtains and other combustibles is required to make your home safe.
Face the facts
Here are some helpful tips to ensure you use heaters in a safe manner:
- Heating equipment should be installed by a qualified tradesperson in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions:
- Maintenance of heating equipment should be carried-out as recommended by the manufacturer:
- For portable heating, choose models that have automatic safety switches that turn the heater off if tipped over:
- Keep portable electric heaters away from wet areas to avoid the possibility of electric shock:
- Always use a fire screen in front of open fires:
- Children and pets must be supervised when heaters are in use:
- Flues and chimneys should be cleaned once a year to prevent a build-up of flammable material and ensure the heater functions correctly : and
- Ensure only the approved fuel is used in liquid fueled heaters.
ACT Fire & Rescue recommends the following kitchen safety tips:
- Never leave cooking unattended
- Make sure pot handles are facing inwards
- Keep stoves, ovens and exhaust fans free of grease and fat build-up
- Keep tea towels and electrical leads away from the stove
- Wear clothes with tight fitting sleeves when cooking
- Put a lid on a pot or pan if it catches fire – never pick it up and carry it
- Have a fire blanket and extinguisher (e.g. CO2 or dry powder) in the kitchen
- Ensure there is a working smoke alarm
- Have a fire escape plan in place and practice it regularly.
Investigations into structure fires in the ACT have found a number of them started in the ceiling or roof space of properties.
The incidents have involved bathroom fans and down-lights being covered with insulation, contributing to the build-up of heat and ensuing ignition of combustible materials.
Investigations have found dust and other materials including insulation around electrical transformers, down lights and exhaust fans may have been a contributing factor to heat build-up, and ultimately ignition.
ACT Fire & Rescue has found there is no direct evidence to suggest poor installation of insulation as the cause of these incidents.
It is possible that work activities in the roof by other trades people or householders may have caused insulation to cover electrical equipment.
ACT Fire & Rescue reminded contractors and residents of the importance of keeping insulation clear of heat generating equipment in the roof space.
When working in a roof space you should always:
- Down-lights, light transformers, exhaust fans and chimneys must have regular inspections to ensure there is no build up of material which may prevent the escape of heat, or prevent equipment from operating in a safe manner; and
- Ensure any combustible material is not dislodged and placed over heat generating devices which can ultimately start a fire.