May 11, 2020 | Jess Silverberg

Firefighters Share The Dumbest Ways People Have Started Fires

Firefighters are some of the bravest people out there. They risk their lives every day trying to save people from burning buildings and fiery destruction. Unfortunately, sometimes their lives are put on the line over a simply stupid and unnecessary error. Here are the dumbest ways people have started fires, according to firefighters:

#1 Bad Ideas All Around

My dad was a firefighter. He once went to a house fire that was started by the old lady who lived there. She liked to burn candles but didn't like the wax build-up that would form in the cavity, so she would soak up the liquid wax with a napkin. She was doing this when she accidentally brushed a wax-soaked napkin up against the flame. She panicked and threw the napkin into the trash... where all the other wax napkins were. As the trashcan exploded into flames, she fled the house, but not before she went to her oxygen tanks and FLOODED THE HOUSE WITH PURE OXYGEN, because she thought that it would smother the fire.


#2 Minor Injuries

My parent's house caught fire the year before I was born. my Mom had the flu, so she had taken some flu meds and knocked out after my dad and brother left that morning. At some point, the woodstove collapsed, setting the house aflame. Her dogs woke her up, which took a while due to her medicated slumber. She awoke to a smoke-filled bedroom, and in confusion and grogginess, opened her door. The house exploded from the fresh oxygen. She miraculously lived, and somehow managed to get out of the house with only a broken toe.


#3 The Grease Fire

My husband and I went to his parents' house for Christmas one year. When we came back home, we had a what-the-heck moment across the street. The house had all the windows busted, the brick on the entire house was charred, and all the cars in the driveway were melted to the cement. Turns out, they had started a grease fire from frying a turkey, then tried to throw water on it to put it out. Fortunately, they only destroyed their own house but they still burned the side of the neighbor's house. Needless to say, they made the news. Do not throw water on a grease fire! You need to smother the fire properly.


#4 A Highrise Risk

I had a guy once who decided—since it was against the condo association rules to use a turkey fryer on the balcony—that he would do it in the living room instead, on the carpet, on the 22nd floor. Luckily, the heat detector in his unit went off and we got there before he burned the whole dang building down. Note to everyone who lives in highrises: Don't use a turkey fryer hundreds of feet above the ground.


#5 Candle Safety

In the city of Colorado Springs, the local news did a fluff piece about candle safety near Christmas. After they were done filming, the store owner that they were filming at took the crew out to breakfast. She didn't put out the candles and burned several shops to the ground. The film crew was there to film her breakdown when they realized what caused the fire.


#6 Just Plain Stupidity

I worked for a restoration company. A family cut a small tree down and tried to stuff it up their fireplace to burn. The flute was so crammed with leaves that smoke started to fill the living room. They tried to pull the tree out and that's when it REALLY caught fire. They tried to pull it out of the house and they got as far as the front door. All of them had second- and third-degree burns on their hands and arms, and the fire destroyed the front room and entryway of their house. The insurance company asked us if we thought it was a case of fraud, and we told them: "No, these people are just really stupid."


#7 A Fiery Christmas

My neighbor did this with her dried out Christmas tree—she just thought she'd feed it to the stove. Of course, the flames climbed down the tree far faster than the tip turned to ash, and pretty soon there was a burning Christmas tree in the living room. Fortunately, she didn't try to remove the tree from the stove, and it was pretty easy to extinguish in place with the kitchen fire extinguisher.


#8 They'll Never Believe You

A Roomba knocked a scented candle over and set fire to the rest of the room. The guy said he knew the Roomba did it because he watched the whole thing happen, but didn't do anything because he thought it was funny. You can just imagine the Roomba turning to face the guy and saying something like, "They'll never believe you."

#9 Candle Mishaps

Candles are the absolute worst. 15 years ago, a guy in my home town lit about 50 candles on the floor around his son's picture. The son had died two years previously. Anyway, the guy left his house to run some errands and returned to find firefighters "saving his foundation" because of some freaking candles toppling over... I hate candles.


#10 Sisterly Stupidity

My sister broke into our house while we were away and made herself at home. She fried up some okra, then went into the other room. 20 minutes later, she said all the lights went out and she smelled smoke. She didn't turn the stove off and had started a giant grease fire. The first thing she did? She got a giant liter of water and threw it on top of the fire. She said it literally just spread to the entire kitchen after that. Mild to wild. We lost the house but my parents got to pick out everything from the kitchen tiles to the roof shingles. It was their dream home so to speak and nobody was hurt. Also, that burnt smell after a fire, you never forget it.


#11 Dryer Vent Fires

Dryer vent fires terrify me. A family one town over from me recently lost their two children because of one. I always was pretty good at keeping ours clean but I do it obsessively now. If you have a drill and a shop vac, this baby works wonders. It takes two minutes and the whole duct is sparkling clean afterward. With a good lint brush, you can jab down under the drum and beneath the screen is a must too. After a time, the whole bottom of the dryer will slowly fill up with wee lint particles.


#12 The Dangers Of Laundry

A friend of my mother did exactly this. She started the dryer with 10 years worth of lint, then went out to dinner. It set the house on fire. Based on the other stories my mother has told me about this friend, it's totally in character. I don't think all her dogs are barking. Also, my old roommate would never empty it. Like, he would do three or four loads, and I would have to always check and empty it. I wouldn't be shocked if he set a place on fire sometime in the future. And yes, I would constantly tell him you have to empty it after every load.

#13 Forged In Fire

am a firefighter but this wasn't in my district. A guy was attempting to forge a sword in a burn barrel in an alley, based on something he watched on the History Channel. The embers from the "forge" lit up the building he lived in and destroyed three multi-family residential buildings. Forged In Fire is the show. They have so many disclaimers but I know other idiots have to have done this.


#14 Boston Improvising

My father was a Boston firefighter for 30+ years. One of his more memorable stories was a foreign family who had ripped up their cast iron bathtub and built an open flame underneath the tub. They used the tub as a giant oil fryer. Naturally, this didn't work out very well and the house caught fire. To add to the insanity, the family absolutely refused to let my dad and his coworkers in without taking their boots off, which of course, they couldn't agree too.


#15 Popcorn Problems

In college, a girl in the dorms was making popcorn which (not sure how, but somehow) caught fire in the microwave. She didn't want to get into trouble for it so she grabbed the flaming bag of popcorn and threw it into the nearby trashcan. Then proceeded to cover the fire with paper towels to "smother" it. She actually thought it would work. It did not work. I came back exhausted after work to find the dorm building surrounded by firetrucks.


#16 The Beacons Of Our Future

College students are really something else. My school is a nursing and engineering school, so it's full of the people that will be staffing hospitals and designing the technology of tomorrow. I cannot tell you how many times I was awoken in the middle of the night because one of these beacons of the future got tipsy and put a burrito in the microwave with the foil still on it.


#17 College Happenings

Last semester, one of the English teachers at the community college I attend put popcorn in the microwave for too long and it caught on fire. The whole building had to be evacuated,(we got let out of class early so that was a plus), and the microwave had to be replaced. There was a scorch mark on the wall behind where the microwave had been. Also, that hallway smelled terrible for a couple of days.


#18 Burning Kitchen

At my college, one of the dorms had a full kitchen on the first floor for all residents to use. At midnight one night in November a few years ago, someone took the large trash can and emptied it onto the glass top. With every burner turned on high, he had set the kitchen on fire. Needless to say, the kitchen was closed for the remainder of the academic year.


#19 A Fiery Drive

Not a house fire, but really good! In the late-1980s, a guy was driving an old, beat-up Lincoln. He turned a corner to go up a steep hill, but the road department had recently ground the asphalt down in preparation to repave. A storm sewer manhole cover was sticking up about four inches. As he went over it and up the hill, the rear of his car dragged due to the pavement height difference, and the manhole ripped open his fuel tank and sparked off the gas.

The guy described it as follows: "I heard a scraping sound, looked in the mirror, and there was this trail of FIRE chasing me up the hill like I was the Road Runner!" He pulled into a gravel parking lot and tried to kick a break in the trail before the fire got there, but it jumped the gap and lit the car. By the time we got there, it was a total loss. He actually thought it was kind of funny. The only real loss was his wife's purse, with her license and credit cards. The car was insured, and they got a pretty nice payout for it.


#20 The Fairy House

This happened this past fall. This family had a “fairy house” that was outside. It was made out of an old tree and had a bunch of decorations in it, including incense candles. One evening, they decided that they would light the candles for the fairies... which later then caught the tree on fire, which then extended into the house. Since it started on the outside, it ran up the side of the house and got into the attic and second floor. The family was home, but on the first floor while this was happening, it wasn’t until someone driving on the road saw the smoke and went to alert the family. Luckily, we were able to save the structure... There was a bit of damage to the roof, attic, and second floor, but the homeowners are rebuilding those areas.


#21 Temple On A Fridge

Not a firefighter, but this happened in my building. In India, generally, you have a small praying area in your house; like a little version of a temple. You light a diya (lamp) every day and pray there. In this particular case, the family decided to keep this thing on a refrigerator. The diya fell behind the fridge due to wind from the window adjacent to it. The condenser caught fire and literally exploded. The whole floor was on fire. Luckily, no one was home. It really was a dumb decision to keep a temple on a fridge.


#22 Caught On Fire

A friend of mine in the fifth grade caught himself on fire with lighter fluid when the charcoal wasn't really starting. They used to sell extension arms you could hook to the lighter fluid can and he used one of those, but the fire ran up the dripping fluid into the can. No problem, he just walked over, set it down, and released the holder, at which point it tipped over. It was only about a quarter full, so a little spilled out... But when he went to tip it back up, it EXPLODED right when his head was above it and the burning lighter fluid covered his head. He was pretty smart for an 11-year-old—he remembered where the fire extinguisher was, ran over, pulled the pin, and sprayed himself, but he still had bad burns all over his face and head.


#23 In A Treehouse

When my father-in-law was a kid, he really wanted to have a campfire. His parents told him no. He was determined to have a campfire, so he went up to his room and started one under his bed so they wouldn't know. I keep that knowledge in my back pocket for whenever he wants to imply I'm an idiot. Similarly, my uncle and his friend once lit a fire inside a treehouse then went inside for a snack or meal. They brought up the idea to me and I told them it was stupid, then he hurriedly excused himself. He got the fire out but there was always a hole and scorch marks on the floor.


#24 Camping Shenanigans

Once on a camping trip, one of the youth leaders decided to show us how the bug repellant was flammable by spraying it over an open flame from his lighter on one of the moths crawling across the table. The tablecloth caught fire and we all simultaneously started dumping our water bottles out on the fire to put it out. Thankfully, it didn't do much damage outside of burning a pretty sizable hole in the cloth. Still, a pretty dumb thing to do.


#25 Fryer Fire

I was a chef before I was in a volunteer fire department for a bit, and this was at a restaurant down the street from my old one. Cooks at this restaurant forgot to plug the drain in the deep fryer. So what happened was they put oil in a fryer, which drained immediately, then right before lunch, they turned on the empty fryer. That’s when the coils caught fire. So not only did they spill five gallons of oil, burn a fryer, fill a restaurant with smoke and end the service day, this was the second time it happened.


#26 Go Artificial Instead

My uncle is a firefighter. The answer is Christmas trees—when they dry out, they become a ticking time bomb. He used to do an annual demonstration where he'd let a Christmas tree dry out for a few months then take it outside and ignite it. The flames would shoot 40-feet in the air and the tree would be gone in a few seconds. It was mightily impressive to behold... and I'm sticking with artificial trees.


#27 A Dangerous Tradition

For years, we would collect everyone’s discarded Christmas trees and build a bonfire with them on the beach of Lake Ontario for New Year’s Eve. We’d stand on the 10- to 15-foot cliff above it and the flames would be well above our heads; so hot that we’d be shucking jackets and such. When the fire dropped, we’d sacrifice more trees down to the fire. It was fun to go down the next morning and see how far out the ice had melted from the shoreline.


#28  Receipts In The Oven

My father lived in a rented apartment. The landlord lived in the apartment beneath him.. My father had switched the fuse off the oven off because he had done some electrical work. He also put some receipts on the oven. In the meantime, the landlord saw the flipped off fuse (located in the basement) and flipped it on. We wondered why it smelled burned and we discovered that the oven was on, and had burned the paper to ash. Amazingly, it did not really burn, the paper just turned to ash. You could even still read some words, but if you touched it, it just turned to dust.


#29 Three Cases Of Dumb

Two kids playing in their backyard decided to light the shed on fire. It spread to their two cars and their house... everything was burnt down. Also, a firefighter started a fire at his ex’s house to “win her back” by “saving her.” He would end up claiming that he was just driving by and saw it. Lastly, a kid lit a curtain on fire on the second floor. The apartment building almost caught fire because someone decided they could grill on the second floor of an apartment building right next to the siding.


#30 Bad Decision-Making

Not a firefighter, but I was living in a big old, single-family home that had been converted into six apartments. Because it was a house, it had a shingle roof. The owner hired one of those "unlicensed, uninsured" type outfits to work on the roof—the kind you find hanging out at Home Depot in the morning looking for jobs.

Anyway, long story short, the guy was on the roof, and somehow caught it on fire. Rather than dialing 911, he ran down three flights of the fire escape, got the garden hose, and ran it back up. Once he got to the top, he realized he never turned it on, so he ran back down, turned it on, and ran back up. Apparently, by that time, it was out of control, so he headed off. One of the neighbors finally called 911 but by then it was a full-on blaze. It destroyed the top two floors and most of the first floor.

The moral of the story is, just call the professionals.


#31 The Tipsy Neighbor

Once, my neighbor stole 15 propane tanks and decided to make a DIY blowtorch. By neighbor, I mean he lived below us. We were giving him our basement. He almost lit the house on fire but then he tripped on something and fell over. The next morning, we looked and saw it had burned a little bit but not much. He was also very tipsy that day.


#32 The Poor Ferrets

Once, we lived in a basement suite and the people who lived above us were making bread toast at 2 a.m. They used a fork to get it out, but the fork hit something so the toaster caught fire. My mom tried to wake me up but I just pulled my blanket over my head and said, "I just want to sleep a little more." Then, my mom said the house could burn down and I was the first one out of my house. My neighbors forgot they had ferrets inside. We grabbed our dog but they didn't grab their ferrets. The fire department came but my neighbors could have put out the fire if they unplugged the toaster and putting baking soda on it.


#33 When Dad Cooks...

My ex almost set our house on fire. He was home alone with our two small children. He was cooking lunch and our two-year-old was sitting in his high chair. My ex decided he was going to cook french fries. He put oil in a pan and LEFT THE ROOM to change the baby that had awoken from her nap. By the time he got back to the kitchen, there were flames two feet high. The only smart thing he did was carry the two children out of the house.

He left them in the back yard, then went back into the house, picked up the flaming pan, threw it into the kitchen sink, and turned on the tap. He burned the bottom of our cabinets and both his arms. Less than a week later, he DID IT AGAIN. I went into the kitchen and found oil on the stove while he went to switch the laundry. I don't know how the house is still standing.


#34 Real Smart Move

I have been a firefighter for 20 years. The dumbest way I've seen a house fire started was when people squatting in a basement decided that a space heater would be handy in drying their clothes. Then they waited 15 minutes before calling for us, trying to put out with a garden hose (into the basement on a 5-degree night). They burned down their home and the one next door.


#35 Gimme The Green Light

I'm not entirely sure if an actual fire was involved, but back when my dad was a firefighter, he and his colleagues were dealing with a three-car pile-up down one side of the motorway. People in the lane going the other way were rubbernecking so much that it caused another three-car pile up on the other side of the motorway. He also told me of a time they were in their truck at a red light and noticed at the petrol station next to them there was a guy filling up his tank while playing with a lighter. When the light went to the green they drove out of that area as quickly as they could!


#36 A True Self-Starter

A lady was mad at her landlord, so she soaked an interior closet full from floor to ceiling of clothes in her second-floor apartment with an accelerant. I think rubbing alcohol. She then lit it on fire and left. Luckily, she shut the door which kept it at a slow burn and contained it for the most part. Her apartment and everything in it was ruined from water and smoke damage. She was very upset we were throwing her clothes and items from an adjacent bedroom out the second-story balcony to the ground below.


#37 A Bad Look

At the time, my dad was the assistant chief of the volunteer fire department (he eventually moved up to chief). Before you scoff, they were actually very well funded and had some amazing equipment (thanks to a local glass and fiber optics corporation). My mother started a fire in the dryer from not cleaning out the lint trap. It was a minor fire, but a fire at the assistant chief’s house? First responders for miles showed up (cops, EMTs, firefighters) and they gave my dad heck for years about it. It was even mentioned at his funeral service. Good times.


#38 Count Your Blessings

Most of the fires I've seen have been started by the usual stupid: unattended candles, unattended kitchens, etc. The weirdest one I've seen was a porch fire caused by sunlight refracting through a glass hummingbird feeder. The ones we can never get to on time are kitchen grease fires doused with water. Those people are lucky to get out of the house at all.


#39 A Winter Scare

I’m not a firefighter, but after a month of my sister living in her first apartment, we had a huge snowstorm and she bought some fire logs to save on heat. She put one in the fireplace and tried to light it but I guess it never really caught fire and just smoldered for a while. Disappointed, she shut the flue, closed the glass doors, and went to bed. She woke up in the middle of the night to her apartment filled with thick smoke. In a panic, she took the smoldering log from the fireplace and tossed it on her snowy wooden balcony. In the morning, the log had burned through her balcony and the one below it. If you looked through the hole, you could see it on the patio two floors below her.


#40 A Bottle Flamethrower

I found an old methane-fueled camp stove and I wanted to see if it still worked or if the holes were blocked up. I put it on the kitchen counter and noticed there was still a little fuel in there, so I tried to light it. Nothing happened. I assumed the there wasn't enough in there, so I got the bottle of methylated spirits and went to fill up the reservoir. Turns out, of course, that it just burned with a clear flame, and it had been alight the whole time. The bottle turned into a flamethrower, spraying fire all over the kitchen.


#41 Thanksgiving Accidents

My dad is a retired firefighter, and I will always remember Thanksgiving when he went on 10 calls in a 24-hour period, all related to people deep-frying their turkeys. Three people burnt up parts of their back yard, one blew up his kitchen, and everyone else either hurt themselves or threw so much smoke out in some way that the department got called to visit. I've seen him come back from wildfires less tired than he was after that shift.


#42 The Quick Burn

A guy decided to burn a bunch of scrap 2 x 4 pieces in his fireplace. One of them was still close to 6 feet long, so it wouldn't fit. He stuck one end in and propped the other end up on a chair. His logic was that when the end gets burned off, he'd just push the wood further and further into the fire. Yeah. 2 x 4 burned. The chair caught fire. The house burned down.


#43 Coffee Catastrophe

I’m not a firefighter, but I’ve caught fire in my kitchen a few times (which is the reason my husband now requires two fire extinguishers within easy reach at all times). I made coffee and put the coffee pot on the stove before going in the shower with my spouse. We got out to our kitchen covered in white smoke. It turned out when I put the coffee pot on the stove, I had pushed it a little too far back and bumped the knob just enough that the burner turned on. We had a good three-foot flame. Luckily, he was able to put it out with some water. The kitchen smelled like burnt plastic for a while.


#44 Stove On High

Not a firefighter. I was an apartment manager and I suddenly heard screaming. I ran outside and saw smoke billowing out from the apartment next to me. I had keys to every apartment, but I tried the door and found it was unlocked. Smoke was coming from the kitchen. A middle-aged single lady liked deep-fried foods, and she put a pot on the stove half-filled with oil, then turned on the heat to "high." It was apparently taking a while, so she decided to lay down on her bed for a few minutes to rest.

The vapors coming off the hot oil had ignited, so I turned the flame off, and then took the pot-holder cloths and scooted it over to an unpowered burner. As I was yelling to see if anyone was in the smoke-filled apartment, I then saw that the flames had gone out. I took the boiling oil-pot outside and set it on the sidewalk. A sleepy woman woke up from the noise and was confused.


#45 Under The Influence

We got called for a house fire once in a pretty decent neighborhood. After we put the fire out, we were talking to the owner who told us the bugs in the garage were everywhere, so she was just trying to burn a few of them. Turns out, she got tipsy, soaked the floor in gasoline, and lit it off. She burned her arms pretty good, but overall she was fine. Luckily, we contained it to the garage, but you truly never know what people are thinking.


#46 Yeah, It's His Fault...

There was a power outage. This lady legitimately lit 400 candles, widely distributing them about the house. She placed about 40 of them along the floorboards near the kitchen cabinets. The particleboard-based countertops caught fire. We kept it to the room. The husband arrived home during overhaul, and it was difficult to keep a straight face while she screamed at him for not buying her marble countertops. We had just put out the candles at the base of the bed, too. I'm not sure how the countertops caught and the sheets didn't.


#47 Oh, The Irony

I have a rather ironic story. My older sister is currently in fire academy and has been wanting to be a firefighter nearly her whole life. However, she initially wasn't very smart when it came to fire. She loves to have scented candles and, a couple of years before she got into the academy, I noticed a strange acrid smell coming from her room. I went in and asked her if she knew what it was. She gave me a shrug and when I looked at her dresser I noticed a candle sitting in a little basket.

The basket had promptly caught on fire. The handle had been slowly burning for a while and the smell was coming from some kind of oil that makes the wood look nicer (it was an expensive collectible basket). I had to quickly grab the basket from the side (that wasn't burning yet), run to the bathroom, throw it into the tub and douse it with the shower nozzle.

If I wasn't there, her room probably would have been scorched and who knows what else. I still haven't let her live that one down.


#48 Walk Me Through It?

My chief always tells a story of a fire investigation he was a part of. He was interviewing the homeowner in the burned-out hall of his house looking at the burned-out closet that now had a skylight. They were having trouble determining a cause, so my chief was having the owner walk through what he had been doing prior to the fire. The homeowner said to him, "I finished vacuuming around the fireplace, so I brought the vacuum to the closet and ... I just burned down my house, didn't I?"


#49 Pop-Tart Fires

Not a firefighter, but I was told this by the chief that answered the calls at the university I worked for: You must tell residents to stop cooking Pop-Tarts in microwaves. Cooking a Pop-Tarts for minutes like in a toaster oven will start a large fire. Apparently, they nearly lost a building to such a fire once. Calls for such a fire happen at least a few times a year. The chief even demonstrated what would happen with a microwave in a parking lot. The flames were quite impressive.


#50 Hazardous Crocs

Someone tried drying their Crocs in front of the fireplace in their living room. Well, it got too hot and they started to melt, which would have been fine on his stone hearth if he had left them there. Instead, he picked them up and carried them through the living room trying to get them to his sink. Over the carpet. The dripping Crocs had enough heat to set the carpet on fire. This is why we should own fire extinguishers, kids. No more house for him.




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