Three Causes of Household Fires that May Surprise You

When we think about the various causes of accidental fires, things like faulty wiring, portable heaters, and unattended candles easily come to mind. But there are also some surprising causes of house fires. Below are three things you probably never suspected as being fire hazards…

1) Batteries

It is a rare occurrence, but discarded household batteries – specifically 9-volt batteries – can lead to fires. When tossed into a waste can, these batteries can generate a spark if the terminals come in contact with a piece of steel wool, foil, or other conductive material. If a combustible substance is also present, a dangerous fire can ensue.

To prevent batteries from becoming a fire hazard, insulate the terminals by covering them with tape or seal the batteries in a plastic bag before discarding them. Some states do not even allow batteries to be discarded in the trash. If in doubt, check with your local municipality for the recommended way to get rid of old batteries.

2) Potting Mix

Another surprising fire hazard is potting mix. It appears harmless, but potting mix contains very little soil, if any. It usually consists of organic matter such as peat or composted bark, which can be flammable when dry. Many potting mixes also contain fertilizer, which can actually contribute to a faster-burning fire.

To further compound the risk, many smokers attempt to extinguish cigarettes in flower pots, mistakenly thinking the “soil” will not burn. However, a lit cigarette placed into a container of dry potting mix can smolder for a long time…and has the potential to burn down the entire house. If you or any of your visitors smoke, avoid putting out cigarettes in gardening pots. Also, don’t keep any containers or bags of dried potting mix in the same proximity as barbeque grills or fire pits.

3) Bird Nests on Porch Lights

It is not uncommon for birds to build a nest atop outdoor lighting fixtures, particularly porch lights, coach lights or spot lights mounted to a home’s exterior wall. Most birds build their nests from dry grass, twigs, leaves and other combustible materials. Certain types of light bulbs, particularly incandescent or halogen bulbs, produce a lot of heat which can ignite the nesting material.

Despite the mess and unsightliness of bird nests, many homeowners leave them alone because they don’t want to disturb the birds or eggs. The federal Migratory Bird Act actually protects many species of birds, including wrens and robins, from having their nests destroyed if they contain young birds or eggs. However, it is not a violation to prevent birds from building their nest in the first place, either by removing the beginnings of a nest or otherwise making the site inaccessible or undesirable. It is also safe to remove an inactive nest. Keeping nests off outdoor lights will help prevent a damaging fire.

Who would have thought these three ordinary items could initiate a blaze? Granted, it doesn’t happen very often, but these common everyday things do occasionally lead to fires. Now that you know about these potential hazards, hopefully you will take the necessary precautions to prevent them from contributing to an accidental house fire.

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