David G. Smith
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How to Prevent House Fires and Protect Yourself in a Blaze

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As of this writing, the Ghost Ship fire death toll stands at 36. Officials hope that number won't rise as the search through the Oakland warehouse continues.

The deadly fire spread quickly through the Fruitvale District warehouse; which, at the time, hosted an electronic music and art show. The space was being used as an artists' collective, some of whom lived there.

More than 100 people who attended the event had little chance to escape the burning, smoke-filled structure. It didn't have sprinklers or fire alarms and had only two exits. The only way out from the second floor, where the music event was held, was via a staircase made of wooden pallets.

Most of us have better protection from a house fire or other blaze. Under California law, all homes built before 1974 must have at least one smoke alarm. Effective 2014, smoke alarms are required in every sleeping room, outside of each sleeping room, and on every floor.

In apartment buildings, landlords are responsible for maintaining alarms. They must upgrade rentals to comply with current building smoke alarm codes. However, if you hear a smoke alarm "chirp," tell your landlord right away, because that means they have to replace the battery.

A client of mine suffered severe, permanent lung damage because her landlord didn't have functioning fire alarms. The client was engulfed in smoke before she even knew there was a fire. Working smoke alarms could have alerted her to the danger.

If you're a homeowner, test your smoke alarm batteries monthly and change batteries at least once a year to protect yourself in case of a house fire. Renters, take notice if your smoke alarms need attention or if your building lacks adequate smoke alarms.

Similar rules apply for fire extinguishers. Under California law, one fire extinguisher is required for every 3,000 square feet of floor area. Homes less than 3,000 square feet require only one extinguisher.

Here are a few other ways to prepare for a house fire:

• Make sure everyone in your household knows two ways to escape from every room of the home. Agree on a family meeting spot outside the home.

• Make sure everyone knows how to call 911.

• Teach everyone in your home how to stop, drop and roll if their clothes catch on fire.

Simple steps can dramatically reduce the odds of a house fire. For example:

• Keep space heaters at least three feet away from anything with the potential to catch on fire.

• If you smoke, smoke outside. Smoking materials are the leading cause of residential fire deaths in the United States.

• Turn off portable heaters when you go to sleep.

• Never leave a candle unattended.

• Don't leave your cooking unattended either, especially if you're frying, grilling, or broiling.

• Fix or replace frayed extension cords, exposed wires, or loose plugs.

For more safety tips, read my blog on burn injury prevention.

My deepest condolences to the families and friends of the Ghost Ship fire victims, and to those that survived the blaze.

Gray Area Foundation for the Arts has teamed with the Oakland Mayor's Office, the Red Cross, and other agencies to raise money for the victims and their families. You can donate here.

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
2201 Broadway
Suite 506
Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 925-308-6484
Fax: 510-893-2701
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