Carelessly Discarded Cigarettes; A significant risk factor for fire deaths

As a firefighter in a previous life, and a fire investigator at present, I have witnessed the destruction of fire, from extinguishing to investigating it. A major factor contributing to death in house fires is smoke inhalation. Cigarettes are a common cause of fires in your home, and with that, brings a high risk of death. Is it a lack of fire prevention training or do people underestimate the risk that a lit cigarette has as an ignition source? This blog will set out the risks associated with cigarette smoking and its potential of fire from a carelessly discarded cigarette.

For those who smoke out of habit, may find it the norm to smoke in the house. From my experience, smokers tend to be predictable. Those who usually partake in smoking activities in their home, will often smoke while sitting on the sofa or smoke in the bed. But what do these places have in common, they are saturated with highly combustible materials.

A cigarette falling on a sofa or bed could smoulder unattended for 10 to 20 minutes, with others known to have ignited up to an hour after. Exposure to air currents tends to accelerate the rate of burning. There have been cases where smokers have fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in their hand. Those who were lucky, awoke, witnessing their beds smouldering, but for others, have not awakened at all.

In another case that I have been involved in, a young woman had lit a cigarette while getting ready to leave the house. Before exiting, she entered the ground floor storage cupboard to get her handbag. As it transpires, an ember dislodged from the cigarette, fell and burnt its way through crumpled paper in a waste bin. Here, the embers lodged where there was thicker fuel (and ventilation), and then ignited. The lady left the property. Fire burnt through the storage cupboard ceiling and caused severe fire damage throughout the property. Neighbours contacted fire control an hour later when the smoke alarm was heard in the property.

How many of you have spent a night socialising, getting merry and blacking out? No doubt, quite a lot, with myself included. Well how many of you smoke cigarettes while getting merry? Again, quite a lot, and the statistics are there to prove it. The combination of smoking and drinking can elevate risk due to increased opportunity of fire ignition. In-fact, most smoke-related fire fatalities in Ireland and the UK show some direct connection with alcohol consumption.

Thankfully, cigarette manufacturers have realised the link to cigarettes and fire deaths. The introduction of RIP strips near the base of the cigarette is designed to allow the cigarette to self-extinguish if left unattended. However, I have tested several cigarettes with RIP strips, and I have found that they can burn to completion too.

So, as you can see, dangerous habitual behaviours as cigarette smoking is a significant risk of fires in domestic dwellings. As an added risk factor, alcohol intake even in moderation can affect a person’s ability to awaken to their smoke alarm. So, for those unlucky enough to fall asleep, having dropped cigarette onto bedding, have an even greater risk of not waking up.

Before I go, and depress you even further, the purpose of this blog post is to make you think carefully of the importance of extinguishing your cigarettes properly. Accidents can happen, and they do happen every day. Even if you yourself are not a smoker, your loved ones may be. Highlight the dangers and make them aware. Who knows, you may prevent a fire occurring in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I will see you next Sunday for the second blog post in this fire prevention series.

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