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Mysterious Fire Hazards Lurking in the Home

                                                                         by Dennis Curley

Hundreds of homes catch on fire every day in America.

That’s according to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). If you check out the fire statistics on their website,, you’ll be shocked by how many lives are lost and how much property is destroyed by structure fires.

What caused these fires in the first place?

No doubt you are aware of some of the more common causes – such as smoking in bed, burning candles left unattended, kids playing with matches and lighters, etc.

Other reasons houses catch on fire are not so common, but these causes are so flagrantly obvious you have to wonder, “What were these people thinking?”

For example, two guys lighting firecrackers in a tiny trailer home. Or a couple barbequing chicken on a charcoal grill in their bedroom. Or a juggler practicing his flaming torch act in his living room.

Sad but all true — these were grown adults and these were actual incidents my crew responded to. Amazingly, these people all survived, though the juggler had some fairly bad burns. All we can do now is pray these folks have at least learned to heed the often-heard advice: “Don’t try this at home”.

But many of the reasons that fires start in people’s homes are not so glaringly obvious. As a firefighter, I’ve fought house fires that ignited from hazards most people are simply not aware of. Even our fire investigators were surprised when they figured out the seemingly bizarre causes of some of these fires.

The thing is — these “bizarre” fire hazards are all over our homes, lurking where you’d least expect them. These dangers might surprise you, but once you are aware of them, you’ll see that they are pretty easy to fix.

Let’s go over a couple of the main culprits:

Non-dairy Coffee Creamer:

The non-dairy coffee creamer that comes in powdered form is shockingly flammable.

I first learned about this hazard after responding to an unusual kitchen fire with my engine company. In the kitchen we found a hysterical, bald-headed woman and some smoldering scrambled eggs. Other than the loss of her hair, the woman had relatively few burns. There was no fire left to put out; but the smoke lingering in the kitchen smelled like a nasty mix of burnt hair, rotten eggs, and roasted marshmallows.

The woman managed to explain between sobs that her formerly long blonde hair had completely burst into flames in a split second. She told us that as she was cooking eggs, she was reaching for the pepper on the shelf above the stove when she accidentally knocked coffee creamer off the shelf. As the coffee creamer spilled, her hair ignited instantaneously.

Our fire investigator broke it down like this: As the cloud of coffee creamer powder spread through the air, some of it collected in the woman’s hair and some of it rained down onto the flames of the gas burner. The tiny granules that hit the burner burst into flames, creating a chain-reaction fireball that instantly ripped through the poor woman’s hair and then quickly went out as soon as the fuel source was spent.

This is why coffee creamer in powdered form is a dangerous triple threat:

First of all, it’s incredibly flammable because it’s mostly made from powdered corn syrup. Much like gasoline or ethanol, corn syrup is carbon-based, so it burns like crazy when it hits a heat source.

Secondly, the fact that it’s powdered creates a double-whammy of flammability. The tiny particles of flammable powder present a lot of combustible surface area, so when they are airborne they have incredible explosive potential.

Third, not many people know about this fire hazard, so they’ll naturally put their coffee creamer where it seems most handy — in the kitchen near the stove where they prepare their food and brew their coffee.

Fortunately, the solution to this threat is not all that complicated. You simply need to be aware to keep powdered coffee creamer away from your stovetop and other heat sources. You could also just switch to coffee creamer that comes in liquid form, or, as one of the firefighters at this incident said, “I’m just gonna drink my coffee black from now on.”

9-volt batteries:

Most firefighters will tell you that fires that start from 9-volt batteries are much more common than fire investigation reports show. That’s because evidence about the specific ignition source of the fire is often completely burned-up and destroyed.

However, it’s not so difficult to pinpoint where in a house a fire started. And if we find the fire started in a “junk drawer”, we know there’s a good chance that a 9-volt battery played a part.

A lot of people have all kinds of batteries rolling around in their junk drawers along with loose change, paper clips, scissors, brillo pads, matches, wire, appliance manuals, etc. What you need to know is that 9-volt batteries, those rectangular batteries with two metal contacts sticking out on top, can easily spark and set off a fire when those contacts touch metal.

What happens goes something like this: Someone opens their junk drawer, rummaging around for, say, duct tape. They find the tape, shut the drawer, and go about their business. In the process, a bunch of stuff gets shifted around, and, unbeknownst to them, a steel wool brillo pad comes into contact with the metal posts of the 9-volt battery.

Sparks fly — literally. Those sparks land on some old hardware store receipts and a book of matches in the drawer. The matches all ignite and the flames spread to the old receipts, appliance manuals, tissue paper, and anything else remotely flammable in that drawer.

Once the fire establishes itself, it does what fires do when there’s fuel, oxygen, and heat — it grows exponentially and quickly. Every 30 seconds, that fire will double in size – from 2 times as big, to 4 times as big, to 16 times as big, to 256 times as big, to 65,536 times as big… I think you get the picture.

In as little as three minutes, everything in that kitchen could be engulfed in flames — while the guy with the duct tape is still putzing around cluelessly in his garage.

I’ve also seen how these batteries can start fires when they are thrown in the trash along with metal screw-tops or other metallic garbage.

Once again, this is a fire hazard that has a straightforward solution — simply store 9-volt batteries separately in their original packaging and be careful when disposing of them.

Nine-volt batteries and powdered coffee creamer aren’t the most common causes of house fires in America, but they are threats that most people don’t know about — and they are threats that are easy to eliminate. That’s why I think it’s important to share this info with you.

I admit, I don’t give out this information to just anyone. After running across enough people like the guys lighting off firecrackers in their trailer home, I realize there are knuckleheads out there who will try to wire together some kind of crazy flamethrower using a 9-volt battery and a jar of Coffee mate. Then, God forbid, they’ll post it on YouTube, or worse yet, test their homemade flamethrower in their garage — forgetting about that gasoline can right next to them.

But I’m honored to share this knowledge with you. As readers of this blog, I realize you are not among the type of people who I’d have to tell: “Don’t try this at home”. But maybe think twice about how you share this information with your crazy teenage nephew, etc.

In my next blog post, I’ll be talking about other dangerous and little-known household fire hazards – some common and some not so common.

In the meantime, take time to do some recon in your home for fire hazards. As we’ve seen, even common household items such as 9-volts batteries and powdered coffee creamer can be threats to the safety of your family and your property. Fortunately, with a little know-how, those threats can be easily eliminated.

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85 thoughts on “Mysterious Fire Hazards Lurking in the Home”

  1. Great prevention tips we just cleaned out our junk drawer and it had 4, 9 v batteries, loose change, coupons, old match books from the 90’s and more… We cleaned it out, and wanted to say thank you for your helpful tips. Like all my stuff I have ordered from you. Thanks again Rick D

    1. Thanks Rick,

      Glad to hear you took the time to recognize that dangerous combination of random stuff in your junk drawer and do something about it. And thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for the info.That’s very interesting I’ll be looking forward to reading your next blog. Hey did u know nacho cheese doritos are flammable? Just take a lighter to one and see. Maybe check it out and let me know if you think they could be a unknown hazard. Thanks again


  3. I have been surprised to inadvertently started two house fires that stand out in my memory. 1) Age 7: Manufacturing rocket fuel in bedroom and had an ignition by friction. 2) Age 37:Came home to find wet newspaper in front yard and ignited it in microwave trying to dry it out. There have been other occasions, but these are the ones that surprised me most.

  4. This was a valuable read and it now alerts me to know areas where I have batteries stored. Some battery manufactures say the charge can last up to 10 years. Are they to be included with the threat of fire?

  5. Wow, totally surprised me of these two items being fire hazards. This article got me scrutinizing my whole house for any potential disaster; earthquakes, emp attack and NEO hitting the planet. Thanks for the info.

  6. …it’s great you really took time to post the fire hazards most people never knew posed to do harm,even death to those unaware!!! a survivalist,i have been teaching my family to be aware of everything around our home..unusual smell suggesting an electrical wire or device burning;dangling wires,even the placing of things on the shelf(heavy ones below),’home maintenance chemicals like aerosol sprays on the coolest part of the storage…so much more…hope folks would be aware enough and heed the warning…tnx for sharing this very enlightening item…stay safe!!!

    1. Hi Dario,

      Thanks for your comments and for sharing those tips. I’ve fought a lot of fires that started from faulty wiring. If people were familiar that unusual electrical smell some tragedies might have been averted.

  7. Whats the matter with having liquid MILK??. Much healthier and less volatile
    Both articles were very informative and reminders of the danger of unwelcome fires.
    Here in Australia we have recently had grim reminders of the power and destructiveness of fires.

  8. woo I never would have guessed that nondairy coffee creamer was that dangerous. batteries I have used as fire starters with foil gum wrappers. keep this information coming. thanks

  9. Great info. Re the 9V batteries, wrap a double layer of insulating tape around the terminals , to negate the possibility of current flow and sparks, should something conductive touch them.