by Michelle Lievense

Each fire season, the toll from both natural and man-made fires grows higher, and this coming season may be just as fiery and hazy as the last one — if not more — unless we do better and take all the necessary steps to minimize preventable fires. HVAC fires, in particular, can be devastating to both life and property but can be effectively prevented with adequate safety features in buildings, proper maintenance of HVAC systems, and basic fire protection systems.

Fire Season Statistics

Longer and more intense dry seasons have been the trend year in and year out, which has led to the earlier onset and longer duration of each fire season. This year, the trend continues with warmer spring temperatures, earlier spring snowmelt, and forecasted higher summer temperature readings.

CAL FIRE statistics for this year have already recorded nearly 2,000 fires between January and early May. The preliminary numbers already show a substantial increase in fire incidents and acres burned compared to the same period in 2020.

Interval Fires Acres
January 1, 2021 through May 9, 2021 1,812 9,392
January 1, 2020 through May 9, 2020 1,159 1,656
2021 Combined YTD (CALFIRE & US Forest Service) 2,060 13,922

Wildfires are a natural part of California’s geography. But the same factors that drive the yearly trend of longer and more devastating fire seasons also account for the increase in HVAC fire incidents. The increase in temperatures during summer puts a greater demand on HVAC systems, and the HVAC system itself can be a fire hazard if not properly installed and maintained. HVAC fires are, in fact, one of the leading causes of equipment-related fires and fire injuries and deaths.

Unlike wildfires, HVAC fires are easier to prevent and control. And preventing HVAC fires is not only crucial to protecting lives and property, but also to averting more catastrophic wildfires.

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5 Tips to Prevent HVAC Fire Season Hazards

An HVAC system has to be adequately sized for a building in relation to the area’s most common temperatures. However, with heat waves expected to keep getting more intense with every summer/dry season that comes around, HVAC systems will have to work harder and longer to provide comfort and refuge for almost everyone. HVAC failures are occurring more frequently when A/Cs cannot keep up with a building’s cooling demands due to higher-than-average temperatures. And when an HVAC system fails, it can become a serious fire hazard.

Just as you need to stay cool in extremely hot weather, so does an HVAC system. And for an A/C to function efficiently, it also needs to be properly and regularly maintained. Here are some tips to prevent your HVAC system from becoming a fire hazard.

1. Regular Maintenance

Schedule regular maintenance checks with a qualified professional. Routine maintenance is not only necessary to keep your system in good working order, but will also let you know if there are faulty or worn-out parts or bad electrical connections that could cause a fire. A higher demand on your system can quickly burn an old, loosened, or exposed electrical connection and trigger a fire.

2. Check for Fuel Leaks

A leaking fuel line is easily detected during regular maintenance. Especially during extremely hot weather, regularly checking for fuel leaks is essential to preventing highly-flammable fuel from coming into contact with an A/C unit’s hot components.

3. Ensure Proper Gas Connections

Faulty gas connections resulting from long-term neglect or poor workmanship can cause gas leaks. When gas pressure is too low, condensation will form on the heat exchanger; when it’s too high, the heat exchanger will heat up. Gas pressure that is less than optimal, either way, increases the risk of an HVAC failure and fire.

4. Keep the Ducts Clean

Your HVAC system will need regular cleaning to maintain optimum performance. Dirt builds up in your HVAC’s vents and coils — which can obstruct airflow and unnecessarily and dangerously strain the system if not cleaned out. Overheating your A/C due to dirt buildup is a fire hazard that can easily be prevented by regularly replacing worn filters and keeping the ducts clean.

5. Do Not Crowd the HVAC System

The space immediately surrounding your HVAC system should be clutter-free. Do not place boxes, crates, cleaning equipment, or any other materials on top of, beside, or near your system. Any junk that obstructs airflow can put unnecessary strain on the system and cause it to overheat and become damaged; some materials can quickly catch fire; cleaning chemicals can react to the heat and cause an explosion. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from your HVAC system.

What To Do Before and During a Fire Emergency

  • Make sure you’re familiar with the building’s fire emergency escape plan and know where all the fire exits are, wherever you are in the building.
  • It’s critical that you do not panic. Whatever the cause of the fire, the first thing you need to do is to exit the premises.
  • Alert everyone that you can and call for help.
  • If there’s a lot of smoke along your escape route, try to find an alternative emergency exit.
  • If there’s no alternative route, stay low by crawling on your hands and knees; your head should be about 12 to 24 inches above the floor to minimize smoke inhalation.
  • If you have access to any fabric and water, soak the fabric and use it to cover your nose or have it wrapped around your body while escaping.
  • If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll. Cover your face when you roll over on the ground to smother the flames. Do not run, as this will make the flames spread faster.

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Furnace Fire Safety Tips During Colder Months

The colder months can also strain a HVAC system — this can lead to its damage or failure, and cause it to become a fire hazard. CAL FIRE offers the following safety tips and precautions for safe home heating and prevention of furnace-related fires.

  • Keep any material that can burn at least 3 feet away from any heating equipment.
  • Maintain a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Heating equipment and chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Turn off portable heaters when you leave a room or go to bed.
  • Use a sturdy fireplace screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
  • Fireplace ashes should be allowed to cool before disposal and then placed in a tightly covered metal container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings.
  • Never empty fireplace or woodstove ashes directly into a trash can.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to prevent CO poisoning.
  • Install and maintain smoke alarms and test them once a month.

Safe and Efficient HVAC Systems with Therma

In addition to the five HVAC fire hazard prevention tips, you should also make sure to have your HVAC system properly installed and maintained by qualified professionals like Therma. Contact us today to service all of your HVAC needs.


Therma – What NFPA 101 Is & Why It’s Important For Your Mission-Critical Building

Therma – Fire Protection Systems

Cal Fire – Stats & Events

U.S. Fire Administration – Official Website

Cal Fire – Cal Fire News Release