45 house fires are reported every hour somewhere in the U.S

Are you prepared? After hurricane Katrina, Wilma and others, people in the United States and around the world witnessed the realities and shock of natural disasters, loss of life, loss of homes and loss of personal possessions. Most natural disasters are unavoidable and we just need to learn to live with them and deal with the terrible consequences that can affect any of us. Dreams are shattered, possessions are forever lost and it's difficult for victims of hurricanes, floods and fire to recover from such traumatic events, not only financially but emotionally as well. If you live in an area that's prone to natural disasters, you should have a simple and practical emergency plan outlining how to evacuate and deal with your losses. Preparedness is common sense, but unfortunately, it's not common practice. Preparedness can substantially minimize your losses. However, not all disasters are of hurricane-size proportions. Even a partial house fire can cause grief, financial ruin, and loss of both life and material possessions. Smoking If you have people who smoke inside your house, you increase your risk of a potential fire. Always smoke outside. It's not only healthier for those in your household who do not smoke, but also safer. Statistics Did you know that in the U.S. in 2003, someone died in a fire every 134 minutes and injured every 29 minutes and that 4 out of 5 fire deaths usually happen in the home? In the same year, more than 3,145 people died in house fires and in 2004, public fire departments responded to 1,550,500 fires in the U.S. How people die Most deaths occur as a result from toxic gases and smoke. That's what typically kills people in a house fire. In addition, it happens fast. Your lungs aren't very big and even a small amount of toxic gases into them can cause you to pass out and consequently breathe in more toxic gases which leads to death. Is your home safe? Have you looked around your home to see what could potentially cause a fire while you sleep and do you have both a fire extinguisher and functioning smoke detectors installed? It's recommended that you have at least one fire extinguisher near your stove since cooking seems to be the primary cause of house fires. Drinking Drinking contributes to about 40% of most house fires and numerous deaths. Intoxicated persons may be unable to notice or extinguish a fire. They may not be able to move fast enough out of a dangerous fire situation. A combination of drinking and smoking inside the home can contribute to house fires. The Victims Additionally, most house fires occur in the winter and typically victimize children and older adults. These two groups of people tend to have difficulties removing themselves from a blaze or toxic fumes. Each year, a large number of pets are also victims of house fires. Candles If you use candles in your home, never leave them unattended for long periods and be sure to put them out before leaving your home or retiring to bed. Never place lit candles near combustible materials such as curtains, drapes, couches, sofas, beds, open drawers, papers, etc. Sometimes a house pet can accidentally get a lit candle knocked over and cause a fire. Also completely put out any cigarette butts, especially if you have small children in your home. They can grab them and reactively throw them away risking catching your couch or curtains on fire! Safety Fire safety is extremely important. While no one is 100% immune to natural disasters or accidental fires, you should take precautions to avoid and deal with such events when they do happen. Protecting items of sentimental value For example, how do you store and safeguard your precious photographs, videos and other personal valuables? Could you recover or salvage them if your residence were to catch on fire? A picture is worth 1,000 words and memories are priceless Many people will store their photos into their PC hard disks, CDs and DVDs. What if your prints, computers and backup DVDs were to be destroyed in a house fire, flood or even an earthquake? What would happen to those precious items and lifelong memories that mean so much to you? I recommend that you store your digital photos and videos online and have backup copies of your family photo safely stored somewhere else in a safety deposit box or online storage service. Cell phone pictures and videos If you're one of the millions of people who take pictures and record videos via your cell phone, you may want to consider how you will preserve them for many years to come. In the event your home is destroyed by flood or fire, you will still have access to your video clips and personal photos. You can often rebuild a home, purchase a new PC, furniture, cell phones, etc. and start over. However, your precious photos and video memories can be lost forever unless you arrange to protect them against accidents and disasters.