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To prevent fires, burns and smoke inhalation, keep a tidy home

I’ve posted a few entries lately about home fires that began because of unusual circumstances. In one instance, a fire destroyed a house and nearly killed two girls because clothing was laying across an extension cord that shorted out.

But just because a fire started from an unusual source doesn’t mean that it was not preventable. In New York City this week, a retired schoolteacher died after a fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. in her apartment. While the cause of the blaze is not yet known, neighbors say that the 82-year-old woman was a hoarder whose clutter in her third-floor apartment was surely a fire hazard. A religious woman, “she saved fliers from every church she had ever been to,” said the building’s manager. “I helped her move apartments just to give her a clean start. She used to say, ‘When I was growing up, I didn’t have anything.'” That seems to be why the woman rarely threw anything away. But when the fire began, the woman, who used a cane, could not get out of her front door. In fact, she was heard yelling, ‘I’m scared!” It’s a tragic story.

Now, most of us do not rise to the level of hoarder–but collecting too much stuff within the home is a problem that many of us do have. While this retired schoolteacher had scores of flammable papers all around her house, it’s likely that many of us have “overcollected” things that aren’t necessary anymore. What’s more, even simple messiness with items that you do use regularly can pose a serious fire hazard within the home.

There are two reasons why messiness can be deadly. First, having papers, books, clothes, and other things laying around could rapidly fuel a fire that might start in the kitchen, or from a candle, or from some source that otherwise could have been stopped with a home fire extinguisher. Second, if a fire does start, it is much harder to get out of the house if you have to step over or around items laying about. And because smoke from a fire is choking and blinding (which is why experts say you should immediately get down on the floor and crawl to an exit), having obstacles in the way can only make it more difficult to get out before you suffer smoke inhalation or potentially fatal third-degree burns.

If you think that you don’t need to tidy up your home frequently and make sure all exits are clear of clutter, consider this story: In Washington state last week, a man nearly died from burns and smoke inhalation when he accidentally started a fire in his tent with fuel for a small heater. In other words, the fire and smoke got so overwhelming so quickly that the man was not even able to move a few feet to get out of a tent! Now imagine if you have to find your way to an exit in a large house that is filling with black smoke and flames. A frightening thought indeed.

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