How to prevent a fire at home: Expert tips on creating an escape plan

WATCH: 'Something out of a horror movie': Neighbour recounts night of Halifax house fire

Seven children, ranging in age from four months to 15-years-old, died in a devastating house fire in Halifax on Tuesday.

Kawthar Barho, the family’s matriarch, says the fire started around midnight and quickly engulfed the house.

Through the use of translators, Barho explained that she had gone downstairs to get the youngest child some milk when she noticed the fire and called her husband to come downstairs.

READ MORE: ‘She called the father, she woke him up’: Details emerge about Halifax fire that killed 7

“…she saw the couch on fire and [it] spread upwards towards the bedrooms where the children were sleeping,” Natalie Horne, a spokesperson from the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team, told Global News.
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Barho was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, and her husband was taken to hospital for life-threatening injuries.

The Barho’s were a privately-sponsored refugee family from Syria, and they arrived in Nova Scotia in 2017.

According to Paul Catchpole, the district chief of the public education division of Toronto Fire Services, houses burn much faster than they used to because household items are increasingly made of plastic.

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“You might have less than one minute to escape,” Catchpole says. Plastic burns quickly, and it is made of toxic gases that can be lethal when ingested in large quantities.”

That’s why it’s important that you’re prepared. For Catchpole, preparedness means three things: Prevention, detection and escape.

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The three most common fire igniters are cooking, smoking and electrical problems, says Catchpole.

‘Stand by your pan’ is an easy-to-remember phrase Catchpole uses to remind people that they should not leave the kitchen while they’re cooking.

If you smoke, you should always do so outside as fire is less likely to catch in the open air. “Always extinguish [your cigarette] completely in a non-combustible container, such as an ash tray,” Catchpole explains.

READ MORE: PM joins hundreds at Halifax vigil for 7 children lost in house fire

“Keep candles away from combustibles and ensure they’re in a sturdy stand that won’t fall over while they’re lit,” says the chief. And, when you leave the room or the house, make sure you blow them out.

“More recently, we’ve had some problems with space heaters,” says Catchpole, citing that they’re very popular during the colder months.

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“We always say ‘give your heater a metre!’ Heaters should be kept at least one metre away from combustibles, children and pets.”


Catchpole says that deadly fire happens when homes aren’t properly equipped.

“There should be smoke detectors on every level of the home. Even if it’s a floor where no one sleeps,” he explains.

Smoke detectors should be tested monthly to ensure they’re still working properly, and the batteries should be changed twice per year.

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Catchpole recommends changing the batteries on the same day as when the clocks change for daylight savings time, so as not to forget.

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“Every homeowner, especially those with young children and pets, should have a fire plan,” says Catchpole.

You can create an escape route using a drawing of your home’s floor plan. There should be two ways out of every room in the house.

“With my kids, I like to use the actual sound on our smoke alarm so that they know what it would feel like during an actual fire,” Catchpole says.

READ MORE: High-rise safety: Guidelines that could save lives during a fire

Choose a designated meeting spot outside of your house, and ensure everyone arrives there in a timely manner.