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Fire safety for college students

Monday, September 11, 2017

With students returning to their colleges and universities for the new school year, now is a good time to think about ways they can stay fire safe whether they live on or off campus.

“Just like any other type of residence or structure, dorms and other types of college housing can and do catch fire,” said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist. “Students residing in on- or off-campus housing should take steps to reduce the fire hazards in their living spaces.”

U.S. Fire Administration data indicates between 2000 and 2015, there were 85 fatal fires in dorms, fraternity and sorority houses and off-campus housing.

The leading cause of campus fires was smoking, but other causes included cooking, candles and overloaded power strips.

Many colleges and universities, including OSU, maintain smoke-free campuses and use of tobacco products is not permitted on campus. Off campus students should keep in mind cigarettes and ashes should be thoroughly doused before being thrown away.

“Be aware that the danger increases when using cigarettes while you’re sleepy or under the influence of alcohol,” Peek said.

Students should only prepare their meals in areas where cooking is permitted. The cooking space should be kept as clean and uncluttered as possible and free of anything that could burn.

“Don’t leave your food unattended while it’s cooking,” Peek said. “If you’re using the microwave and it catches on fire, leave the door closed and unplug the appliance.”

While candles add a nice decorator’s touch to any living space, students should consider using flameless candles, which are safer alternatives. However, candles burning with an open flame should not be left unattended.

Finally, students should develop an emergency plan that includes at least two ways to escape from the residence in case of fire. For help with creating an emergency plan, visit

“Being prepared in advance of an emergency such as a fire increases your chances of avoiding serious injury,” Peek said.

For more information on ways college students can become fire safe while living on or off campus, contact the nearest county Extension office.

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