More Americans die in house fires every year than in all natural disasters combined. When in doubt, escape the building, but if you judge that you can safely mount a fire-extinguisher battle, there are two rules you need to know. Rule one: Stay 6 feet from the flames so you don’t torch the rest of your house by air-blasting a nascent fire across the room. Rule two: People often forget rule one and make things worse, so keep your escape route to your back when you pull the trigger.
More than 50 percent of fatal house fires occur between 11 pm and 7 am (peak hours for all fires are 5 pm to 8 pm), so practice two ways out of every room at night. And make sure at least one of them does not rely on a stairwell, which can easily become a deadly vortex of gas, smoke, heat and flame. “Homes are the only occupancy in the country allowed by code to have an open staircase,” says house-fire expert John Norman, a retired chief for the Fire Department of New York. “We call them chimneys. They serve as channels for fire as it moves upwards.” Finally, it may sound basic, but picking an outside rendezvous point is critical, so you can discover quickly who’s made it out of the house and who hasn’t.