According to the American Red Cross, 80% of Americans don't realize that home fires are the single most common disaster in our country.  In fact, each year fire kills more U.S. citizens than all other natural disasters combined. However, most people aren't aware of this because house fires are "silent disasters," seldom receiving the same publicity as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes.

Another little known fact is that very few fires are caused by natural events such as lightning or static electricity. The American Red Cross says that faulty appliances and faulty wiring cause the greatest number of house fires. The second most common source is heating devices such as kerosene heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces. These devices cause fires when furniture, boxes or clothing are placed too near to them, and the material overheats and bursts into flames. Although human error is often the catalyst for house fires, human preparedness can prevent them.

Here are some tips to keep your family and property safe:

* Purchase only quality household equipment that has been tested by Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) or other appropriate testing facilities.

*Be certain that  household equipment is installed by a technician who has been trained how to properly install, and also knows the appropriate building code requirements for the installation.

*Have your electrical wiring and heating periodically checked to be sure they are in proper working condition.

*If an appliance is behaving erratically, don't operate it.  Instead, call a qualified repairman to find the problem and correct it.

*Control the amount of combustible material in your home by removing cardboard boxes, newspapers, old mattresses, rags, leftover paint and other items that are no longer in use. In fact, you should periodically inspect the attic and the cellar to be sure that you aren't storing any combustible materials that should be discarded.

*Check the type of wall finishes in your home to ensure they aren't conducive to spreading a fire. Plaster and gypsum board retard fire growth. Plywood paneling made of compressed wood pulp, known as beaverboard, accelerates the spread of fire in dwellings.

*Place fire extinguishers so they are readily available in the event a fire starts. It is important to understand what type of fire extinguisher to use:

-Class A extinguishers can be used to put out fires in wood, rubber, cloth, and paper.

-Class B CO2 or foam-filled extinguishers can be used for fires in flammable liquids, greases and gases.

-Class C CO2 or foam-filled extinguishers can be used for fires in energized electrical equipment.

-Halon can be used on any type of fire.

*It is of utmost importance to put a smoke detector in every room.

*Schedule regular practice fire drills. Be sure children are completely familiar with the correct way to evacuate in the event of a fire.

*Don't let your family be the victim of this "silent disaster." Become familiar with these fire prevention tips and put them into practice.