Fire safety for Fido and Fluffy

According to the National Fire Protection Association, hundreds of house fires are started by pets and wild animals each year.

Wildfires in various states remind us our pets are vulnerable to injury and death from smoke inhalation and flame. But did you know that counter-surfing or curious pets can also start fires accidentally?

Firefighter Steve Oberaigner of Bloomington Fire Department in Minnesota recalls the time a fellow firefighter’s dog jumped up at the stove and hit one of the burners with his paw, turning it on. The flame set fire to items near the stove. Oberaigner has also heard of pets unintentionally starting fires by knocking over lit candles. And fires may start when pets overturn lamps or space heaters, or spread hot embers or ashes from fireplaces or ashtrays.

Between 2006 and 2010, approximately 500 house fires each year were attributed to animal-related causes, says Nancy Schwartz of the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass. Not all of those animals were pets; wildlife or pests such as mice or rats may have also unwittingly started fires by chewing on wiring, for instance.

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, approximately half a million pets are affected each year by fires in the home. Sponsored by the NVFC, the American Kennel Club, and ADT Security Services, National Pet Fire Safety Day on Tuesday, July 15, highlights safety tips to both prevent pet-caused fires and protect pets in the event of any fire.

Take the following steps to protect your home and pets from accidental fires:

  • Light a romantic fire with flameless candles that have a light bulb instead of a wick. If you prefer the real thing, never leave pets unattended in the presence of an open flame.
  • If your dog is tall enough on his hind legs to counter surf, remove stove knobs whenever you leave the house. The NFPA says a stove or cooktop is the number-one cause of fires started by pets.
  • Use stainless steel or ceramic pet water dishes on your wooden deck. Filtered and heated through glass and water, the sun’s rays can ignite the wood beneath the bowl.
  • Check your home for potential hazards such as loose wires, stove knobs, and piles of paper or other rubbish.

Ways to keep pets safe in the event of a fire:

  • Keep collars on pets and place leashes near the door so first responders can use them to lead pets to safety. Oberaigner says pets are often waiting at doors and run out when firefighters come in.
  • Provide animals with an escape route in the form of a pet door. If it’s necessary to confine them, keep them in a room or area near an entry door so firefighters can find them easily. Pets are more likely to be injured or to die in a fire when they are locked in a kennel or room, Oberaigner says.
  • If you live in a fire-prone area or are concerned about a fire potentially starting, consider installing monitored smoke detectors so firefighters will be notified of and can respond to a fire even if you’re not home.
  • Make note of where your pets like to nap or hide in case you must evacuate your home quickly.
  • Alert firefighters to the presence of pets with window stickers that note the number and types of pets inside, and make sure the stickers are up to date. The presence of one reminds firefighters to spend a little more time searching the house for pets, Oberaigner says. Free stickers are available at local volunteer firehouses nationwide on July 15 and from the ASPCA.