KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
October 4, 2018
Natalie Cook Clark and Katrina Katsarelis
Although most home fires start from cooking or kitchen appliances, there are many, other dangers lurking in Katy Area homes. In honor of Fire Prevention Week, we spoke with local fire station representatives to help Katyites be on alert for their home's potential fire risk factors. Here are some things you may not realize when it comes to home fires in Katy.
Newer Katy homes Burn faster than Old Ones
According to the Today Show, 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to escape a house fire, but today it's down to four minutes. Why? Because the materials used have changed dramatically. "New homes are built with lightweight construction and although they can be put up fast at a lower cost they often use prefab trusses and glued lumber where in the past there would have been a beam,'" explains Simon VanDyk, Harris County Emergency Services District 48 Fire/EMS "As builders look to save money and decrease build times the use of gusset plates (metal rectangles with teeth) to secure two boards together at a peak instead of an actual nail. These plates can melt when under a fire load which can mean weight bearing structural members are not secured to each other and may collapse far sooner than with older construction practices."
Your Garage and Breezeway Could be Dangerous
Many Katy homes do not have proper firebreaks between detached garages and the houses. "Whether a garage is finished or not doesn’t really determine whether a breezeway has been made safe with a proper fire break," says Van Dyk. "We have seen finished garages involved in fires where the sheetrock around the breezeway is still unfinished so as to allow for easy access to the lines entering the home. He also says that even if the sheetrock does close off this “horizontal chimney” from the garage to the house, it is not a true fire break and will eventually fail as the wood structure behind the sheet rock catches fire and that now travels up the wall and seeking the path of least resistance follows the breezeway into the home." VanDyk says their home safety survey looks at breezeways and will help the homeowner determine whether or not they are protected. "Breezeways can be easily checked with a flashlight and step ladder by shinning a light through the passage way. If the light makes it all the way to the house then the fire will have no trouble doing the same thing."
"We do have a higher number of garage fires than would be statistically expected and, due to the breezeway issue above, they often cause more damage than in other parts of the country where the detached garage is truly detached. Garage fires are the result of multiple causes but the most common we have seen is improper disposal of smoldering and/or flammable material."
Your Home May Have Electrical Issues you Don't Realize
According to electrician Hector Laredo, the most likely cause of electrical fires is faulty wiring or improperly installed outlets and switches. He says sometimes homeowners will get warnings like flickering lights, burning smells, or strange noises, but sometimes there are no warning signs. Laredo recommends homeowners check outlets annually and replace the breakers every 10 years. The Willowfork Fire Department suggests homeowners not overload outlets and to call a professional if they see or smell anything odd when using an outlet. "Other warning signs that an outlet might be on its last legs would be discoloration of the outlets itself or excessive heat from the outlet when it is in use," explains VanDyk. A non-working outlet could also be a warning sign. When in doubt, always call an electrician to check it out.
Your Breaker Box May Need Replacing
This week, a Katy resident in the Cimarron area called to report their their breaker box caught on fire out of nowhere. Fortunately, the family got out safely. "There are a number of neighborhoods in and around that part of town that have a brand of breaker box that is notorious for failure and causing fires," says VanDyk.
Your Smoke Alarms May Not Be Working Efficiently
Many residents assume that because their smoke alarm is hard wired it works. Not true, says Van Dyk. "Smoke alarms have a working life span of 10 years. He says after 10 years of normal use their ability to detect smoke degrades considerably and although a device might actually 'sound' after 10 years, it may not do so as quickly as it should to give a family the earliest warning possible," explains VanDyk.
Never assume any smoke alarm is working, especially if it's older than the recommended 10 years. "Hardwired smoke alarms are the preferred way to protect a home since they all talk to each other and will all soun