Victoria’s fire services respond to more than 3,000 house fires across the state each year. More than 70 per cent of fatal house fires start in bedrooms or lounge rooms.
While the dangers of fire are very real, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself, your family and your home this Winter.
Data from FRV and Country Fire Authority (CFA) reveals Winter as the highest risk season for residential fires in Victoria. This is partly due to the increased use of home heating.
As Winter sets in across the state and Victorians switch on their heaters to combat the chill, FRV is urging everyone to be aware of the fire risks inside their home.
Are you Fire Ready for Winter?
Home heating includes open fires, wood heaters, fixed electrical or gas-powered appliances, and portable electrical, gas or kerosene heaters.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper installation and use of all heaters.
- Choose portable heating appliances that have automatic safety switches that turn the heater off if tipped over.
- Poorly maintained gas heaters can cause house fires and deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Check your gas heaters before you use them. If you suspect a fault have the item checked by a qualified repairer or replaced.
- Gas heaters should be professionally serviced every two years to make sure they are working properly and safe to use.
- Check all power cords on electric heaters for fraying and damage.
- Plug electric heaters directly into wall sockets only; not power boards.
- Keep portable electric heaters away from wet areas to avoid the possibility of electric shock.
- Never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended and turn off heaters before leaving the room or going to sleep.
- Fire screens should always be placed in front of fireplaces when in use.
- Make sure fireplace embers are extinguished before leaving your home or going to bed.
- Keep all household items at least a metre away from all heaters. Common mistakes people make are drying clothes and storing firewood too close to heaters and fireplaces.
- Check your portable outdoor heaters before use and have them serviced or replaced if required. Check that the area where you plan to use them is flat, has good air flow and is away from awnings and other combustible materials. NEVER use outdoor heating or cooking equipment inside your home. This type of equipment can lead to a build-up of deadly gases.
- Children must ALWAYS be supervised near all types of heating. Always keep a safe distance between children and heating.
- Choose a safe place to store matches and lighters where children cannot reach them and keep these items at least a metre away from the fireplace.
Approximately 40% of house fires start in the kitchen and many of these occur in the colder months.
- Cooking left unattended is the most common cause of fire in the home. Keep looking when cooking.
- Turn off the stove, cooktop, oven and other heat sources before leaving the home or going to sleep.
- Only plug one electrical appliance in each power point.
- Keep items that could burn like tea towels, kitchen paper and food packaging at least one metre away from cooking and heat sources.
- Keep the griller, oven, stove top, rangehood, cooking appliances and cooking area free from built up grease, dust and oil by cleaning them regularly
- NEVER use water to extinguish fat or oil fires. Water can spread these fires and you are more likely to get burnt and cause more damage.
- A fire extinguisher and fire blanket should be stored within easy reach but away from the cooking area. FRV recommends that you only use a fire extinguisher or fire blanket if you feel physically and mentally able to use this equipment safely.
- Cooking should only be done in the kitchen; it is dangerous to cook in any other rooms in your home.
- Always supervise children in the kitchen. Keep pot handles turned in so that they cannot be easily tipped over.
- If you are experiencing difficulty cooking safely, contact your local council or a private provider for assistance with preparing or delivering meals.
Old and damaged electric blankets can cause electrical fires.
- Inspect your electric blanket before use by laying it on top of your bed and feeling the internal wires for any abnormalities. Check the cords and controls for damage. Turn it on for 5 minutes and then feel for any uneven hot spots. If you notice any of the above faults the electric blanket should be replaced.
- Electric blankets are not designed to be used while sleeping. Turn it on 20-30 minutes before going to bed and turn it off as you get into bed. Consider adding additional bedding to keep warm if needed.
- When packing your electric blanket away at the end of Winter it is safer to roll it as folding can cause damage to internal wiring. Consider hanging it in a cupboard.
Wheat and other types of Heat Bags can ignite or burn if overheated.
- Check your heat bags for signs of wear and tear or scorching. Replace if you notice any of these signs.
- Only purchase heat bags with instructions. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions when heating, using and storing.
- Heat bags need to completely cool on a non-combustible surface before storing.
- They should never be used in bed or while sleeping as they can overheat and start a fire.
Many Victorians use their clothes dryer more during the colder months. The build-up of lint in the dryer and exhaust duct is the most common cause of dryer fires.
When dryers are not cleaned on a regular basis the lint build-up restricts airflow and the dryer can heat up and cause a fire.
- When clothes take longer to feel dry after a normal dry cycle it may be a sign that something’s wrong. Clean the duct system regularly.
- Clean the lint filter after each use.
- Always let the clothes dryer complete the cool cycle before stopping.
- Never leave your dryer running when you leave the home or go to bed.
- Do not overload the dryer with too many items.
You will not smell smoke while you are asleep. You will not know a fire has started unless you have a working smoke alarm to wake you in time to evacuate safely. Only working smoke alarms save lives.
To meet Victorian legislation you must have at least one working smoke alarm on each level of the home. They should be placed on the ceiling between bedrooms and living areas.
Victorian fire services, however, recommend that you have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, hallway and living area.
- Test your smoke alarms every month by pressing the test button. If any of your smoke alarms are not working change the battery or replace the alarm.
- Give your smoke alarms a vacuum at least once a year to remove dust and insects.
- Check that your smoke alarms are in date. Smoke alarms have a lifespan of ten years. The date will be somewhere on the smoke alarm.
- FRV recommends smoke alarms powered by a long life (10 year) lithium battery.
- Hardwired and interconnected smoke alarms are best because they do not rely on the batteries and can provide an alert throughout your home.
If there is a fire in your home this winter, having a home fire escape plan and working smoke alarms will greatly increase your chances of getting out safely.
Do not wait. EVERY SECOND COUNTS. GET OUT and STAY OUT. Then call Triple Zero (000). Never go back inside a burning building.
- Draw your home fire escape plan and discuss it with your whole family.
- Download your grid here
- Know and record two safe ways out of every room. Make sure that your windows and doors are not obstructed and can be unlocked and opened quickly if necessary.
- Decide on a Safe Meeting Place with your household. Your letter box might be a good place to wait for the firefighters’ arrival.
- Practise your home fire escape plan regularly with the whole household.
- As you escape make sure you close internal doors behind you. This can reduce fire spread and minimise damage.
- Smoke and heat rise. Crawling down low may be the safest way to escape a fire in your home.
Reviewed 09 June 2023