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Causes of Residential Fires

A fire in the home can happen at any time. Even with the strongest fire safety measures in place, no property is completely immune to the risks of fire and the devastating consequences it can reap. There were 35,016 fires in residential settings as of 2020, courtesy of official Home Office data. With such a high number of recorded fires, you’ve got to wonder; what are the causes of residential fires?


Causes of Fire in Residential Buildings

The leading cause of residential fires can be divided into two categories: fires caused by heat igniting combustibles, and fires caused by chemical reactions.

The average household is full to the brim with objects, substances and materials that are easily ignited under the right circumstances. Some of the most common causes of residential fires are to be expected, other causes might surprise you.

Here at RAD Fire Sprinklers, we’re committed to identifying and lowering the risks of residential fires in order to keep you, your family and your property safe from the devastating repercussions that a fire can leave.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the leading causes of residential fires, how to identify a problem and the ways in which we can learn to protect and prevent residential fires.


Cooking Fires

Cooking fires are one of the main causes of residential fires.

Fires that occur because of a cooking-related incident result in around 49% of all residential fires. Cooking fires usually start when greases become overheated in an oven or from the open flames on a stove. When grease and cooking oils reach approximately 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is around 315 degrees Celsius. When it reaches its ignition temperature, it is capable of combusting at any point, even without direct flame contact.

If a grease fire breaks out, it is very difficult to keep the flames under control.

When cooking with oil or using foods that produce a surplus of grease – such as bacon – it is important to remain in the kitchen and to not leave the cooking appliance unattended under any circumstances. Most fires that originate within a kitchen do so because the homeowner has left food to cook unsupervised, and by the time the fire is discovered, it’s usually too late.

To prevent this leading cause of residential fires, try thoroughly cleaning all of your cooking utensils to prevent grease from building up.

Portable cooking appliances such as toasters and electric grills are also part of the most common causes of residential fires. Again, by leaving these appliances unattended, you are running the risk of a fire starting. Always make sure these appliances are left to cool down before placing them back into a cupboard.

Small grease fires are effectively diminished by promptly turning off the heat and containing the flames using a metal lid. Some other helpful tips include sprinkling baking soda onto the flames to help put out the fire. A class-B or class-K fire extinguisher is also a recommended tool for tackling small flames.

With larger and more serious fires, it is vital that you make no attempt to combat the blaze yourself. In this case, you should contact the local fire services immediately. If you attempt to quell the flames by propelling a bucket of water over the fire, you are running the risk of the pan exploding and cascading burning grease over the area.


Electrical Fires

This common cause of residential fire typically happens due to short circuits that result in sparks flying onto flammable material, or from circuits that have been overloaded with electrical current, causing wires to overheat.

Electrical fires are destructive, and often fatal. This is likely because these fires often start in hidden locations and escalate into major fires before residents are even aware of the danger.

Professionally installed electrical equipment is usually very safe and comes with built-in protective features. Old and outdated systems are susceptible to overloading and short-circuiting. To prevent electrical fires, it is important to carry out regular checks of your electrical devices, as well as your wiring. Hiring a professional electrician is the only solidified way to determine whether or not your devices are safe to use.


Heating Appliances

This commonly causes residential fires that usually strike in the winter months. Small home heaters can cause fires when they are stationed nearby flammable fabric material, which is found in nearly every home.

Cooling appliances aren’t to be left exempt, as both of these devices combine to make a deadly force within our homes if left unattended.

Heaters that operate using a fuel source, such as kerosene are incredibly dangerous. These appliances are prone to explosion if they are left under poor supervision.

Electrical heaters are especially catastrophic if they are left near hanging fabrics like curtains. When using any form of heating or cooling device, it is integral to follow the instructions of the manufacturer and inspect the device to ensure that it is in working order.


Chemical Fires

Fires that are the result of a chemical reaction are more commonly associated with industrial and commercial facilities, but they can happen in residential environments. Chemical fires in homes occur when vapours from flammable liquids reach a volatile temperature or when the fumes come into contact with an open flame.

Another form of chemical fire comes from spontaneous combustion. This is the process of chemicals combining with oxygen to produce enough heat, which then reaches a flashpoint, followed by ignition and then a burst of flames.

To prevent chemical fires from starting, it is important that any flammable or potentially dangerous chemicals are stored correctly. There are specially designed containers available to store liquids such as petroleum and gasoline.

Plastic containers that are decorated with the correct labelling are the safest method for storing such chemical substances.



Christmas and New Year are the prime dates for candle fires. While they might add a beautiful scent and aesthetic to your home during the winter holidays, candles can prove to be extremely dangerous.

Candles should always be blown out before they are left unattended, and should be stationed away from any flammable materials by a minimum of 12 inches.

If you want to remain on the safe side, there are some excellent alternatives to candlelight, like decorative lighting or battery-powered flameless torches that even flicker in the same nature as a candle.

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