The American calendar is filled with days, weeks and months set aside to draw attention to a wide variety of worthy causes and issues. Often several such observances are going on at once. A great many of these are worthy of respect and deserve note, but the sheer number of them can make it difficult for people to focus on those that are most important.

With that in mind, we urge readers to pay particular attention to the message of Fire Prevention Week, which is underway. The event offers important lessons that could be the difference between life and death.

While about 80% of U.S. fire deaths occur in homes, people tend to underestimate their risk. The challenge here is to persuade people that a fire most certainly could happen to them and that they and their families need to be prepared. A fire is tragic enough, but it is far more so when it results in death that could have been prevented had some basic precautions been taken.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2017 there were 1.3 million fires reported in the United States, causing 3,400 civilian deaths, 14,670 civilian injuries and $23 billion in property damage. That was just in one year. The NFPA says that in an average lifetime, each U.S. household has a 1 in 4 chance of having a home fire large enough to be reported to a fire department and a 1 in 10 chance someone will suffer an injury in a home fire. Why risk being unprepared?

One of the easiest steps is to ensure your home has working smoke alarms. That means not just having the devices but making sure they have fresh batteries and testing them regularly. The NFPA says that about three out of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no working smoke alarms.

Once you’ve ensured that your family will receive adequate warning in the event of a fire, the next step is to develop and practice a home escape plan. That’s the focus of this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme. The NFPA notes that today’s home fires burn faster than ever, making it crucial that people are able to get out quickly. Studies show that in the past, people had about 17 minutes to escape a typical home fire from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Now they may have as little as two minutes to get out safely. NFPA officials attribute the change to synthetic fibers used in modern home furnishings along with changes in construction trends.

NFPA statistics show that the number of reported U.S. home fires in 2018 is half that reported in 1980. However, the death rate per 1,000 reported fires has remained fairly steady, reflecting the continued challenges of safely escaping today’s home fires.

A home escape plan includes working smoke alarms on every level of the home, in every bedroom and near all sleeping areas. There should be two ways out of every room, usually a door and a window, with a clear path to an outside meeting place such as a tree, light pole or mailbox that’s a safe distance from the home. Home escape plans should be practiced twice a year by all members of the household.

Then there are steps people can take to prevent fires from happening in the first place.

Cooking is the leading cause of house fires. Never leave cooking food unattended, especially if you’re cooking in grease or if the oven is at a very high heat. Keep paper and cloth items such as towels away from the stove.

Make sure home heating equipment is properly maintained. Avoid using portable and fixed space heaters. Malfunction or misuse of such devices is a common cause of fire-related deaths.

Be extremely careful when using candles. Keep them away from cloth items such as curtains or drapes, and never leave a lit candle unattended.

And if you must smoke, don’t do it in or near the house. Smoking was the leading cause of home fire deaths between 2012 and 2016, according to the NFPA. And the leading origin of smoking-related fires was on an exterior balcony or open porch. If there’s something that can catch fire, chances are that it will.

Please heed these warnings year-round and avoid the risk of unspeakable regret should a tragedy happen due to a lack of preparedness.

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