Image: image shows red fire extinguisher attached to brick wall.

Being aware of your surroundings wherever you are.

In the aftermath of the Lahaina wildfire on the island of Maui, Hawaii, we have seen the devastation that fire can wreak on a community and people’s personal lives: more than a hundred deaths, billions of dollars in property loss or damage, and years of recovery.

Fire can happen anywhere, and we all need to be prepared to protect ourselves, loved ones and our communities. Below we provide some helpful fire safety tips to remember, whether you are at home, at work or on the road.


This year’s National Fire Protection Association fire prevention campaign is themed, “Cooking safety starts with you.” The number one cause of home fires and home injuries is cooking fires. A few kitchen cooking tips include the following: Remain in the kitchen while broiling, grilling, frying or boiling food. Check food regularly when roasting, simmering or baking. Never leave the house while cooking. Keep wooden utensils, towels, packaging and other flammable materials away from the stovetop.

If there is a small grease fire while cooking on the stovetop, slide a lid over the pan to smother the flames, turn the burner off and leave the cover on the pan until it has cooled off completely. If the fire takes place in the oven, keep the door closed and turn off the heat.

NFPA also emphasizes that if you have any doubts about fighting any fire in the kitchen, “Just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire and call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number from outside the home.”

At home

The NFPA suggests having a group meeting with everyone in the house to draw up a floorplan. From each room, identify two exits with a clear path outside. Conduct a fire escape drill twice a year, once at night and again during the day with everyone using their pre-established escape routes.

If you have children, show them how to get out of the house safely without your assistance. Highlight the importance of closing all doors while exiting to slow the spread of fire, smoke and heat. Also discuss the importance of never going back inside a burning house.

At work

Being aware of your surroundings is important wherever you work. WAPA Headquarters and other WAPA maintained buildings have Facility Occupant Emergency Plans that include primary and secondary fire evacuation maps and other helpful information. If this resource is not available, determine two paths of escape from your workspace and mentally establish what you will do and where you will go if you hear an alarm or smell smoke. Contact WAPA’s Office of Security and Emergency Management if you have questions and talk with your supervisor and coworkers to help raise awareness.

Vehicle fires

If a vehicle fire starts, remain calm and act quickly. Use a fire extinguisher to stop the threat if the situation is small and manageable. Do not jeopardize your personal safety by approaching a larger vehicle fire. When in doubt, evacuate to a safe distance, remembering that the gas tank may explode. Call 911 immediately and, if on duty, notify your supervisor. Remember three important fire safety points while traveling on the road: planning, prevention and reaction.

Plan ahead by having all necessary emergency supplies such as a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit and a cellphone. Perform regular vehicle maintenance and daily inspections for vehicle damage or signs of fluid leakage. Look for grass and other combustible materials that may be lodged in the exhaust system or engine compartment and near other hot surfaces. If you smell smoke or something melting, pull over and investigate.

At a hotel

Review the posted escape route in most rooms and locate the nearest exit to make sure it is not locked or blocked. Count the number of doors between the exit and your room; this will help if there is low visibility during a fire. If a fire occurs, use the stairs and never use the elevator. Stay as low as possible and go underneath the smoke. If caught in your room during a fire, turn off the air conditioner and fans, stuff wet towels into the crack below your door, notify the fire department of your location and wait near the window with a bright cloth or flashlight.

Whether you are at home, at work or traveling, stay prepared because fire can happen anywhere.

WAPA kitchen area near-miss

While attending a training class at a WAPA facility with a kitchen area, a few employees gathered near a counter in the kitchen that had a stovetop and associated control knobs sticking out from the front of the counter. An employee unknowingly bumped up against a knob that controlled a back burner on the stovetop and accidentally turned it on.

A while later, those in the kitchen area noted a burning smell and discovered a smoldering wooden cutting board face down on the top of the burner that had inadvertently been turned on. The employees quickly responded to the situation, turned off the burner and removed all hazards from the area.

Note: Robbins is a technical writer who works under the Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs contract.

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Last modified on March 12th, 2024