Leann, one of our receptionists, woke up choking during the very early hours one morning last July. There was smoke in her bedroom. “At first I thought the smoke was coming from outside, because my window was open,” she said. But as she walked out of the bedroom, she saw thick smoke and a flickering glow at the end of the hall.
Baby’s favorite sleeping spot was on top of the stove, so that’s where Leann, her owner, put her old cat’s bed. The cat bed and kitchen cabinets were in flames, and there was no sign of Baby, so Leann feared the worst had happened. By the time help arrived, the fire had gutted most of the house.
What caused the catastrophic conflagration? Although it might have been faulty wiring, the firefighters felt it was more likely to be a pyromaniac pooch. Leann’s dog, Kodi, has a habit of standing on his hind legs and placing his front paws on the top of the stove to harass Baby. Most likely, on that fateful morning he turned on one of the burners during his hijinks.
When Leann told me her sad tale the day after the fire, I realized that this type of disaster must be more common than people realize. I remembered a client who came into our office about 15 years ago with a similar tale of misfortune. One night, the family had pizza and then went to a movie. They left the pizza box, with a few uneaten pieces of savory cheesiness, sitting on top of the stove. You guessed it: The dog couldn’t resist the temptation and accidentally turned on the stove while dining. The family returned from the movie to find nearly complete destruction of their house. The dog sitting in my exam room had made a safe exit.
So now I’ve personally known of two house fires caused by pets. Just how prevalent are these animal-induced infernos? My curiosity led me to the Internet. In a similar vein, a story titled “Who’s a naughty kitty…?” relates the tale of a £250,000 blaze that destroyed two houses in England. Fire investigators believe the homeowner’s tabby cats, Jesse and Dora, might have walked across a touch-sensitive knob in the kitchen, turning it on. Both cats perished inthe fire.
It might seem obvious that pets and stoves can be a virulent combination. But a glass dog bowl? An article from 2009 in the Seattle Times reported that the partially-filled bowl was sitting on a wooden deck on a sunny day. The water apparently concentrated the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass. The resulting fire destroyed the deck and the adjacent kitchen to the tune of $215,000. University of Washington atmospheric scientist Steve Warren says the dog-bowl theory sounds far-fetched but not impossible.
The best story I found, though, was about a naughty corgi named Yogi who liked to attack cleaning supplies. One day, Hali Hudson, Yogi’s owner, opened the cabinet under the sink. Yogi grabbed a can of spray paint that was stored with the cleaning supplies and punctured it. The can flew around the room spraying paint everywhere, including all over the dog. While Hali was in the bathroom washing Yogi, she heard an explosion; her kitchen had caught fire. Nobody was hurt, although the resulting mess was frightful. A show called “Pet Sense” happened to be there that day filming a story about dogs with unusual behavioral problems, so the entire debacle is recorded: Explosion & Fire Caused by Corgi
These tragedies are alarming, but mostly avoidable. The AKC offers these tips to prevent your pet from causing fires:
- Extinguish open flames. Pets are curious and will investigate cooking appliances, candles, even a fire in your fireplace. Make sure your pet is not left unattended around an open flame, and thoroughly extinguish any open flame before leaving your home.
- Remove stove knobs. Remove stove knobs or protect them with covers before leaving the house. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a stove or cook top is the No. 1 piece of equipment involved in fires started by pets.
- Invest in flameless candles. They contain a light bulb rather than an open flame, eliminating the risk if your pet knocks it over. Cats are notorious for starting fires when their tails turn over lit candles.
- Beware of water bowls on wooden decks!
And these tips will help protect your pets in case of a fire:
· Keep Pets Near Entrances When Away From Home. Keep collars on pets and leashes at the ready in case firefighters need to rescue your pet. When leaving pets home alone, keep them in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them.
· Secure Young Pets. Especially with young puppies, keep them confined away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home. Secure them in a crate, or erect baby gates.
· Because pets left alone can’t escape a burning home – Consider using monitored smoke detectors that are connected to a monitoring center so emergency responders can be contacted when you’re not home. Such systems provide an added layer of protection beyond battery-operated smoke alarms.
· Affix a pet-alert window cling – Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window. That critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets. Make sure to update the number of pets listed.
Although Leann and her husband had to live in a hotel room and farm out their pets for five months, her story has a happy ending: All 12 pets were safe. Needless to say, Baby no longer sleeps on the stove, and the stove knobs are protected from Kodi with child-proof covers!