Mills: Fire Safety at our Cabin in the Woods

Fire safety and prevention…I was thinking about this yesterday. Yes, my good friend and fire prevention specialist at our department, Firefighter/Engineer Daniel Byrne, would be so proud of me.  But honestly, I was thinking about it because we have recently moved to my dream home (which is actually a cabin) in the country.  It is truly beautiful and we have worked many long, difficult, penny-pinching years to make it here.  Now, with this amazing life we have created we want to protect it in every way possible. Fire prevention is just one of the protective measures I consider.

My husband is the fireman, so that should be his job, right?  Wrong!  He is the fireman, but this means that he is not at home for regular, lengthy shifts. This means that each year:

  • Thousands of meals are prepared in our kitchen while he’s not home. 
  • Hundreds of nights of slumber are peacefully slept in our house without his protective presence. 
  • Tons of things break or go wrong around here and rest assured the majority of them will break at the start of a 48-hour shift. 

This is why I’ve always made it a point to be well-versed in dealing with as many bad luck scenarios as possible.  Our cabin is all wood inside.  It’s not a log cabin on the outside, but in any modern structure there is plenty that will burn, and burn intensely, if it ever catches fire.  So, my goal is to never let it catch on fire.  And what better way to accomplish this than to set out some simple strategies to prevent fire?  Here are the things I have considered so far:

Fire Extinguishers

We have two in the house and one in our storage shed.  One fire extinguisher is in the kitchen area, as it is my understanding that this is where the majority of house fires start.  The other is in the middle of the house, or the living room area.  Since our floor plan sort of divides the house into two halves, this seemed like the most logical place to put it. 

Dishwasher Safety

This may seem like overkill, but some of our friends just lost their house to a fire that began in their dishwasher.  After the fire, the mother did some research on house fires and found that a large majority of them are started from dishwashers!  I never knew that.  Luckily her family was at work and school when the fire started, but they usually run the dishwasher when they go to bed at nights.  If they had done their normal routine this time and run it the night before, the fire would have started when they were all sleeping and it likely would not have been a good outcome with the two daughters’ rooms being directly above the kitchen. 

Because of this, I am very cautious now.  With a family of 5 and cooking several meals a day at home, we run our dishwasher all the time.  I never set our dishwasher to run when we are either sleeping or not home.  I make sure I run it in the evenings, immediately after dinner so that it will be finished before we head to bed.  The added bonus is that I have a clean kitchen earlier each evening and the whole family helps clean up.  None of us are fond of the idea of burning up in our sleep.  Every time the dishwasher finishes washing and hits the dry cycle, I turn it off and open it up. Air dries the dishes just as quickly and it doesn’t cost a dime on the electric bill.

I do the same thing with the dryer. I prefer to line dry our laundry because it saves a ton of money.  But if we do use the dryer, we always make sure the lint trap is cleaned out and we only run it while we’re home and awake.  It’s more peaceful falling asleep at night to the sounds of nighttime in the woods, rather than the grinding of modern appliances anyways.

Smoke Detectors

Making sure there are working smoke detectors is something we have always made sure to do.  We have functioning smoke detectors in every room, set at the appropriate height.  We also have a carbon monoxide detector set near the floor in the kitchen area since I have a gas cook stove.  If a battery is low and one of our detectors starts beeping, the girls and I all know how to replace the battery.  Of course, twice a year, we replace them all just for good measure.  I admit we’ve forgotten this step a time or two, but we definitely strive to remember.

Evacuation Plan

This one had to be greatly modified when we moved to our cabin in the woods.  The majority of the floor plan is on the first level, with only storage and my office area up in the second story loft.  There are also tons of windows, which we have trained our girls to always see as a secondary means of escape.  The different part is that now the girls cannot escape and meet at the neighbor’s house to get help and call 9-1-1.  Our nearest neighbor is across the street and down about a half of a mile.  Our agreement is to meet in one particular spot that is a safe distance away from the house, but will allow them foot access to the driveway and road, if need be.  It will also allow them to be safely out of the driveway yet still able to be seen by and communicate with the first arriving responders.


The other major difference between our cabin in the woods and neighborhood life is that now we are surrounded by woods.  Woods have plenty of fuel for fires.  Woods also have predators and venomous things.  We have had to address both of these issues already.  After the extremely wet and freezing winter storms that came through the South this year, we had many trees either topped or completely down in our woods.  Thankfully, we cleared enough of a hazard area directly around the house, that even the three trees that fell near the cabin still missed it.  The driveway into the cabin was mostly accessible, but the four emergency access roads that double as hunting lanes were completely impassible.  So, in a style typical of our family, we tackled this problem together. 

One Saturday, my husband loaded up his chainsaw and all his sawing gear and the girls and I loaded up water, work gloves, snake-proof boots (these are essential, seeing as how we have already seen one timber rattler and jumped a copperhead while picking blackberries,) and limb cutters and all five of us headed out to clear the fire lanes.  It’s the country, so everything out here is multipurpose.  They are alternative access roads, as well as hunting lanes, and fire breaks.  All purposes are essential to our life out here.  We drove down each road as far as we could, then stopped, cleared the small stuff, chain-sawed through the large stuff, cleared all of that, then moved on some more.  It took two days for the five of us to complete the daunting task, but now we have driving access, hunting capabilities (during hunting season, of course,) fire breaks, and even a clear running path for the dogs and me again. 

So while every area, every house, and every family has a different set of obstacles to their personal fire safety, I say don’t be afraid to figure yours out and tackle them with and without your fireman.  He may be the expert on fire safety in your family, but with this lifestyle, it is highly likely that he will not be the parent in charge if or when a fire threatens your family.  

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