Don’t let a fire put fall semester on the ash heap

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752,

Contact: Joyce Cavanagh, 979-845-3859,

COLLEGE STATION – With the fall semester about to begin, students will be far more interested in laying out their schedules and their books than focusing on fire safety, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service safety expert.

“However, making fire safety more of a priority as students return to college could save lives and property,” said Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension specialist, family and community health, College Station.

Failing to remove built-up lint from a dryer filter is one of the ways a fire can start in an on- or off-campus dwelling. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

According to U.S. Fire Administration data, there were 85 fatal fires in dorms, fraternities, sororities and off-campus housing from 2000-2015. Some causes include overloaded power strips, cooking accidents, candles and smoking. Administration data also shows 70 percent of fatal campus fires occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 67 percent of the victims were male.

“The risk of a fire occurring inside college housing is very real, and students need to understand the risks and consider safety measures to help them prevent or escape from a fire,” Cavanagh said.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the majority of domestic fires start in the kitchen, most commonly as a result of distractions while cooking. Heating equipment is the second most common cause of fires in the home.

“On Texas campuses, heating equipment-related fires are not as likely to occur as they are on campuses in more northern states, but they can still happen during colder winter months,” Cavanagh said. “Also, other electrical appliances in a dorm room or apartment can start a fire by means of a malfunction or by overheating and igniting a nearby object. Faulty or frayed electrical wires can also cause a fire.”

She noted clothes dryers can also cause a fire due to a mechanical malfunction or not cleaning the machine’s lint trap.

“Unfortunately, many college students don’t have much experience with doing laundry and aren’t even aware dryers have lint filters that need to be cleaned regularly,” Cavanagh said. “A dryer fire is a pretty drastic way to learn that particular lesson.”

She said many fires start when smokers fall asleep with a lit cigarette or due to cigarettes left smoldering in a full ashtray.

“Lit candles and incense burners are also the cause of many fires in dorm rooms or apartments,” Cavanagh said.

She said to avoid or protect from a fire, some of the steps that can be taken include:

— Having an escape plan that includes two ways out of every room.

— Keeping the cooking area clean and removing anything flammable from near the stove or cooktop.

— Never leaving candles or other burning objects unattended.

— Using flameless or LED candles instead of traditional wax candles. Many institutions ban the use of wax candles on university property.

— Not overloading outlets and using power strips with surge protection.

— Keeping heaters at least 3 feet away from any other object, making sure they do not obstruct an exit.

— Regularly checking and cleaning electrical appliances and ensuring the cords are in good condition.

— Keeping a fire extinguisher in an easy-to-find location and knowing how to use it.

— Not laying down while smoking and avoiding tossing unextinguished cigarettes into the trash.

“Keeping fire safety in mind when returning to college can help ensure students avoid fires and know how to respond in the event one occurs,” Cavanagh said. “The last thing any returning student needs is to be injured, have possessions destroyed or be displaced by fire on or off campus.”

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