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Dorm Fires - Why Your Dorm Room is a Blaze Waiting to Happen

by Elizabeth Dennis

posted in Reference and Education : College University

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Nearly 1,500 fires occur each year in college dorm rooms and fraternity and sorority houses. As a college student, your small living space will be filled with paper, books, clothing, bedding, and other highly combustible materials. A fire can take hold within seconds as a result of cooking, smoking, lighting candles, and overloading electrical outlets within feet of these flammable objects. Take the following precautions to prevent a potentially deadly fire in your dorm room.


Cooking is the number one cause of accidental fire in a dorm environment. Always adhere to your school's guidelines regarding cooking equipment. If a particular appliance is prohibited, it is usually for good reason. Never place toasters, hot plates, microwave ovens, etc. near beds, drapes, books or clothing. Don't use appliances with bad or frayed cords and make sure the appliance is UL listed. Keep the equipment clean at all times and remove all grease from its surfaces.

While cooking always pay attention to what you are doing and never walk away. When you are finished, always be sure to turn off the appliance, or better yet get into the habit of unplugging it. A unit with an automatic shut-off feature is your best option. It is also a great idea to keep a fire extinguisher nearby.

Open Flames

One of the biggest contributing factors to dormitory fires is the use of candles and smoking materials. Candles are prohibited on most campuses and for very good reason. Too often candles are placed close to the combustible materials we discussed or candles are left unattended when students leave their rooms or fall asleep. Leave the candles at home so you will not be tempted to use them.

Smoking materials often start dorm fires; especially when they are not extinguished or disposed of properly. Too often, cigarette butts end up in regular garbage cans instead of dedicated ash trays. Falling asleep while smoking or smoking while impaired are equally as dangerous. Follow your school's rules and only smoke in designated areas.

Electrical Safety

The misuse of electrical outlets in your dorm room can put you at great risk for a dormitory fire. If there are outlets in your room that are too hot to touch or do not hold the plugs properly, discontinue their use immediately and report the issue to your RA.

Do not abuse the use of power strips. While a power strip might be needed for you to plug in one or two additional items, use them sparingly or you may overload the electrical system. Only use power strips with built-in circuit breakers that will shut off automatically if you are drawing too much power.

Make sure any extension cords you are using have a UL label, especially if you picked up a few cheap ones from the Dollar Store. Extension cords are technically made for temporary use, so be careful. Never chain extension cords together and avoid putting them under rugs or furniture.

Other Dorm Fire Hazards

Make sure other electrical items such as hair dryers, curling irons, hair straighteners, clothes irons, space heaters, etc. have an automatic shut-off feature. These are very easily left on by mistake and as a result become a significant fire hazard.

Keep your dorm room relatively neat and free of clutter. If a fire does start, it won't be fueled by piles of clothing, extra papers, and overflowing garbage cans. If you have a party in your room, get rid of all the trash immediately.

These safety precautions may seem obvious but they are all too easily overlooked with the excitement and hustle and bustle of dorm life. Revisit this list every year to refresh your memory and to make sure your dorm room is fire-hazard free.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Dennis writes for a variety of college and university topics, including dorm living. For information about dorm room furniture, visit our dorm desks buying guide.

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