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How to escape a burning house - steps and tips

Updated on September 2, 2010

One of the things we fear most is, that you or someone close to you will actually be caught in a burning house and cannot escape. It has probably been one of our most primal fears since prehistoric times.

How to you stay calm if you wake up to a house on fire? It's a simple lesson that can be lost in the heat of the moment. I'm handing you some tips so that you and your family can escape safely.

Guide to a complete home escape plan

1. Draw a floor plan with escape routes

  • Draw in all walls, doors, windows and stairs. This will show you and your family all possible escape routes at a glance.
  • There should be at least two exits for each major room in the house and everyone living there should know where they are and how to open the windows if needed.
  • The best escape route is the normal way in and out of your home.

Floor escape plan example

  • Think of any difficulties you may have getting out, especially at night you may need to have a torch to light your way.
  • Choose a second escape route, in case the first one is blocked.
  • Children especially need to know that if a fire happens and they're in their room, they have another way out besides their bedroom door. Explain to young children, never to hide under the bed or in a closet because mom, dad and firefighters will have a hard time finding them.

2. Think ahead

Decide in advance who will assist the very young, elderly or physically challenged members of your household and do not forget any pets.

Adhere a pet rescue alert to any clean glass surface to alert firemen, police and neighbors that there are animals inside the house.

A few minutes of planning will save valuable seconds in a real emergency !

3. Practice !

After reviewing the floor plan with the members of your household, have an actual practice to ensure that everyone knows what to do. Practice hesitation as your escape routes may be quickly blocked by smoke or flames. Your practice drills will ensure that everyone knows what to do when fire strikes. An unexpected practice once a year is a good idea to keep everybody alert.

 4. Choose a meeting place

To prevent a tragedy caused by not knowing whether everyone has escaped from the building, it's a good idea to choose a meeting place. It has to be a spot that is far enough away from the house; agree for everyone to meet there in the event that a fire or other emergency happens.

5. Call the fire department

  • Once at the meeting place, someone can be sent to the neighbor’s home to call the fire department.
  • Include the neighbor’s name and the fire department phone number on your plan.
  • Mark the street address of your home on your fire escape plan,
  • Teach your children (if you haven't already) the local emergency phone number.
  • Always keep the Fire Departments number by your own phone in case a neighbor or child needs to call. Also, put your address by the phone so that children can read it out to the emergency services.

6. Close your bedroom doors at all times !

Teach family members to close their bedroom doors.

If a fire happens and you have installed smoke alarms properly, the alarms will wake you despite having the door closed.

Closed doors keep out smoke and fire for up to 20 minutes giving you time to get out of the house safely.

7. Stay in control of yourself

Work through potential feelings of fear. Although it's natural to be afraid in a fire, it's essential that everyone knows that their plan will keep them safe and help them survive.

Children may instinctively want to hide, but practicing the safety plan and ensuring them that the plan keeps them safe.

Get out alive... escape from a burning home

8. Feel Doors

Before you open any door, ALWAYS feel them. Be sure to touch the door, the doorknob, and crack next to the door with the back of your hand. If you feel heat, DON'T open the door and use your second way out.

Even if the door is cool, brace your shoulder against the door and open it carefully !

Take notice of the smoke !

9. Avoid inhaling smoke

Smoke actually kills more people than fire does !

If you hear an alarm or see smoke in your bedroom, rolling out of bed and crawling across the floor to the exit keeps you from inhaling smoke and allows you to think clearly, act quickly and get out to survive. Therefor practice rolling out of bed in the event of a house fire.

If you see smoke, use your second way out.

If you must go through a smoke-filled area to get out, get down on your hands and knees, and crawl quickly under the smoke to the exit. If you can grab a piece of clothing or a towel, place it over your mouth to keep from breathing in the smoke. This works even better if you can wet the cloth first.

10. If your escape route is blocked

• if you’re on the ground floor, go out of a window – throw bedding or cushions onto the ground outside to break your fall

• if you can’t open the window, use a heavy object to break it at the bottom corner – cover any jagged edges with clothing, a towel or a blanket

• lower children as far as possible before letting them drop – get an adult to break their fall if you can

• lower yourself by your arms from the window ledge before dropping


· In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire.

· In only 3½ minutes, the heat from a house fire can reach over 1100°F / 595 °C. People die when the temperature is over 212°F / 100°C.

· The heat from a fire can spread to every room in a home. In a matter of minutes, the temperature can go over 300°F / 150°C in rooms that are not even on fire. This is hot enough to melt plastic ! Inhaling this super hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt clothes to your skin. In five minutes a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once: this is called flashover.

· Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to find your way around the home you've lived in for years. Even with all the lights on in your home, the smoke from a house fire can be so thick that your home may be completely dark in less than 4 minutes.

· Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you sleepy, confused, drowsy, disoriented and short of breath. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape. So if you’re asleep, the smell won’t wake you, but a smoke alarm will.

· Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries, followed by heating equipment like fireplaces or chimney’s.

Smoke detectors don't age well


Some extra tips that may come in handy :

  • Smoke detectors don't age well. Replace them in time !
  • Have a fire blank close at hand in your kitchen.
  • Install a fire distinguisher.

How a fire blanket works

How a water extinguisher works


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    • profile image

      Ganeshan Nadarajan 

      6 years ago

      The steps & tips for escaping a burning house are useful information.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great stuff! A very thorough hub, I must say! Thanks for taking the time to share in great detail the ideal fire escape plan. Keep up the great work!


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