Home Fire Safety

House fires happen everyday. The biggest tragedy is that the majority of house fires are preventable.

Who's most at risk of dying in a house fire?

The Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) published a report in March 2005 detailing the findings of a national study into residential fire deaths in Australia and New Zealand[1].

The AFAC Report indicates that the groups of people at risk from dying in house fires are:

  • children under the age of 4 years old
  • people over the age of 65 (with vulnerability increasing with age)
  • adults affected by alcohol.

General findings show that more deaths occurred during sleeping hours of the cooler months, May to September.

Most fires occurred in owner-occupied houses. Fires were mainly caused by

  • electrical faults
  • smoking materials
  • heaters
  • open fires
  • lamps.

Smoke alarms were not fitted in most of the homes where deaths occurred. In those that did have them, 31% of them were not working.

If you have people in your care in these vulnerable groups we recommend you read the following information and put measures in place to ensure the risk to these people is minimised.  If you can't find the answer to your questions within these pages please contact us for assistance.

[1] "Accidental Fire Fatalities in Residential Structures - Who's at Risk?" (March 2005) Australasian Fire Authorities Council, Melbourne, Australia.

Smoke Alarms

Legislative requirements

Smoke alarms are compulsory for all residential buildings in South Australia.

Home owners are required, by Regulation 76B of the Development Act, 1993, to install battery powered or hard-wired (240 volt mains powered) smoke alarms.

Houses built since 1 January 1995 must be equipped with hard-wired smoke alarms. All other houses must be equipped with at least 9 volt battery powered smoke alarms. When a house with 9 volt battery powered smoke alarms is sold the new owner has six months to install alarms which are hard-wired to the 240 volt power supply or powered by 10 year life, non-replaceable, non-removable batteries.

Penalties apply for non-compliance.

Why do you need a smoke alarm?

Smoke obscures vision and causes intense irritation to the eyes. This, combined with the effects of the poisons in the smoke, can cause:

  • disorientation
  • impaired judgement
  • panic

This reduces your ability to find an exit.

Most fire-related deaths result from inhaling toxic fire gases rather than from direct contact with flame or exposure to heat.

Correctly located smoke alarms in your home give early warning of fire, providing you with the precious time which may be vital to your survival.

Home fire escape plan

The installation of smoke alarms forms one part of a Home Fire Escape Plan. It is vitally important that every family has a complete Home Fire Escape Plan which all occupants of your household practise and understand.

We can provide advice on the development of a Home Fire Escape Plan. Contact us on either (08) 8115 3300 or email the Community Engagement Unit.

Surviving a house fire

Have a plan

  • Conduct fire drills with the whole family.
  • Agree on a place to meet outside.

If fire strikes

  • Get everybody out of the house.
  • Meet at the designated place.
  • Call the Fire Service on 000.
  • Do not go back inside.
  • If the fire is small and localised, extinguish the fire if it is safe to do so
  • Keep wallets and handbags easily accessible

Stop, drop, cover and roll

  • If clothes catch fire: STOP, DROP AND ROLL to smother flames while covering your face with your hands.
  • To help someone else, throw a woollen blanket over them if they catch alight.

If there's smoke get down low and go, go, go

  • In a fire the safest area for breathing is near the floor where the air is cooler and cleaner.
  • Get down low and crawl to safety.

Know basic first aid

  • Clean cold water cools burns and lessens the pain.
  • Do not use butter, ice, cotton wool or ointments on burns.
  • Do not remove burnt clothing from skin.

Install home fire fighting extinguisher

  • Every home should have a properly maintained fire extinguisher and fire blanket.

Common causes of house fires

Kitchen stoves:

  • Never leave the stove unattended.
  • Check that electric cords, curtains, tea towels and oven cloths are at a safe distance from the stove top.
  • Be careful of long flowing sleeves contacting gas flames.

Electric blankets:

  • Do not sleep with electric blankets on or leave the house without switching them off.
  • Never leave weighty objects on the bed when the electric blanket is on.
  • Have your blanket checked by an authorised repairer if you suspect overheating.
  • Always follow manufacturer´s instructions for care and storage.
  • Inspect each blanket for wear and tear at the beginning of the cooler months.

Faulty wiring:

  • Always use a qualified electrician.
  • Double adaptors and power-boards can overload power points.
  • Install safety switches and correct fuses.

Smoking in bed:

  • Smoking in bed can be fatal - tiny embers can smoulder unnoticed and burst into flame much later.


  • Check light fittings for heat build up.
  • Discard lampshades that are close to light globes & lamp bases that can be knocked over easily.
  • Ensure recessed downlights are properly insulated from wood panelling or ceiling timbers.

Flammable liquids:

  • Store all flammable liquids such as petrol, kerosene, methylated spirits away from heat.
  • Always check the label before use and storage.
  • Use extreme care when pouring.

Clothes dryers:

  • Always clean lint filters after each load.
  • Avoid drying bras in your dryer as the underwire can get caught and start a fire.


  • Never leave burning candles unattended. Do not sleep with a burning candle.
  • Make sure curtains and other flammable items are well away from burning candles.

Home heating:

  • Make sure all appliances are professionally installed.
  • Check that walls and floors are insulated from heat sources.
  • Be careful where you place portable appliances.
  • Never leave an open fire alight when you leave the house or go to bed.
  • Place a mesh guard in front of open fires.
  • Have your chimney and flue cleaned annually.
  • Never leave children unattended near fires and heaters.
  • Clothing should not be dried close to heaters or fires.


  • Warn all children about playing with fire.
  • Keep all matches, lighters and candles out of reach of small children.
  • Teach young children to bring matches or lighters they find to an adult immediately.
  • Teach older children that matches are a tool to be used in the presence of adults.
  • Brief your babysitter on your fire plan - make sure they know all exits and emergency telephone numbers. Make sure the babysitter understands fire survival techniques.

Wheat bags

Wheat bags or wheat pillows are often used to provide relief from the body's aches and pains but if they are used incorrectly they are also a fire and burn hazard.

Wheat bags are fabric bags filled with wheat (or other grains). They are heated in a microwave oven and then placed on the body to apply warmth.

Fires have occurred when wheat bags have been used as 'hot water bottles' to warm a bed. Further examples have been reported where wheat bags were found to be smouldering after they have been over-heated in a microwave oven.

Wheat Bag

Wheat bags have been used for many years as an inexpensive, convenient and reusable winter warmer and heat treatment for sore muscles. You just pop one in the microwave, heat for a couple of minutes and it's ready to use. However, wheat retains heat for a long time and the bags can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

If a wheat bag is over-heated the chance of ignition is greater if the wheat bag is insulated with blankets or a quilt when being used to warm a bed.

In addition, burns to the skin may occur with an over-heated wheat bag especially if it is being used on a baby, young child or an elderly person.

We recommend you consider the following fire safety guidelines when using wheat bags:

  • Do not overheat wheat bags. Follow the manufacturer's instructions
  • Use wheat bags only as a heat pack for direct application to the body. Don't use them as bed warmers
  • Do not use wheat bags in bed - there is a chance you could fall asleep whilst they are in use
  • Use wheat bags with extreme caution with the elderly
  • Do NOT use wheat bags with babies or young children
  • Do not reheat until the wheat bag has completely cooled. Reheating before the bag has cooled may be just as dangerous as overheating
  • Watch for these signs of over-use: an over-cooked odour; a smell of burning; or, in extreme cases, smoking and/or charring. Discard the wheat bag after cooling if you observe any of these signs
  • Do not put wheat bags into storage until they are cold. Leave them to cool on a non-combustible surface such as a kitchen sink