Deadliest Homesteading Mistake, Fire Safety on the Homestead

They came from the city.

They were prepared.

They were prepared for the complete collapse of world civilization, and with it, the demise of the banks, the governments, the plumbing fixtures; all of the institutions modern man relies upon.

They were prepared for the Next Ice Age when a giant meteorite crashes into Earth and tilts the planet on its axis, plunging life on Earth into a thousand years of winter.

They were prepared for times of mass starvation, when folks would shoot you for your food, because they knew that if they were starving, they’d shoot someone for their food.

It didn’t matter that none of these things had ever happened, they didn’t have their heads buried in the sand, and they weren’t taking any chances.

But there was something they weren’t prepared for; something that has been a constant threat for approximately 4.5 billion years: the deadliest homesteading mistake.

They were at the end of a long and tortuous jeep trail twenty miles from the nearest town, so that when the roving bands from the ghetto, three-hundred miles away, came looking for them in order to get their home-grown tomatoes, they’d need four-wheel-drive.

They were even beyond cell-phone service, and since they’d wanted to eliminate having bills to pay, so they didn’t have cell phones anyway.

So when they awoke on a crisp November morn, and the fire in the stove had dwindled down to coals overnight, they filled up the firebox with armloads of dry wood, opened the damper all the way and went outside to enjoy the fresh morning air.

Then they started playing with the dogs, and time sort of got away from them…

Number of times that world civilization has collapsed: 0

Number of home fires in the United States in 2010: 384,000

That gave the cheap sheet-metal woodstove time to heat up the room. In fact, it gave the wide-open stove time to start glowing red-hot.  Metal begins to glow red at 752°.  Paper, such as the grocery sack behind the stove in which they kept the kindling, famously burns at 451°.

By the time they noticed licks of flame through the window of the cabin, the room had already filled with black smoke.  They didn’t have a well, so the only water they had was about two gallons of drinking water, which was inside the cabin.  There was half of a six-pack of beer in a cooler outside, but by that time, it wasn’t of much value at suppressing the flames which were spreading through the rafters.

Had they had a telephone, they might have called their Rural Volunteer Fire Department who would have at least tried to respond, even though these folks weren’t members, but the firehouse was seven miles away, most of it logging trail, and the pumper truck didn’t have four-wheel-drive.

It isn’t hard to imagine the despair they felt standing there in the middle of the woods helplessly watching their cabin, and with it, most of their possessions burn to the ground.  Luckily, their truck was parked far enough away that they had transportation into town.

The image of a home on fire is a very troubling sight, one that just seems inherently wrong.  Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to imagine our own homes going up in flames, but in fact, home fires happen all the time, and they happen with the most frequency to those folks who are the least prepared for them.

Don’t let this be you.  Whether you live in an apartment in the city, or a cabin in the woods, you need to take the threat of fire seriously, as there are few things that can ruin your life so quickly as a house fire, the deadliest homesteading mistake.

Groups Most at Risk for Home Fires

According to the CDC, these groups are at most risk for fire-related injuries and death:

Persons living in rural areas;

Children 4 and under;

Older Adults ages 65 and older;

African Americans and Native Americans;

The poorest Americans;

Persons living in manufactured homes or substandard housing.


How NOT to Burn Down Your Cabin in the Woods: Fire Safety on the Homestead

Here are a few rules specifically intended for rural cabin-dwellers:

ALWAYS have a fire extinguisher.  If you don’t have a well, plan to have one drilled.

NEVER leave a room where a woodstove is burning with the damper open.  Either stay and watch it, or close the damper down to where you usually keep it, or a bit less.

ALWAYS use only insulated stove pipe with a spark arrester.

NEVER keep combustible material near a woodstove.

ALWAYS make sure the chimney is at least three feet higher than the roof pitch.

ALWAYS use fireproof roofing material, and use fire-resistant building materials whenever possible.

ALWAYS keep branches and debris cleared away from the chimney.

NEVER keep explosive or flammable materials, such as gasoline, inside the cabin.

ALWAYS stack firewood at least 30 feet from the cabin.

ALWAYS have a lithium-battery smoke alarm(s) with a hush-button.

ALWAYS keep tall grass, brush, leaves and forest debris at least 30 feet away from the cabin; the further the better.



  1. Most interesting and well written article. How helpless our pioneer ancestors living in remote areas must have felt when threatened by fire. and other natural disasters. We can be so thankful for the support system of emergency services – fire and police departments etc.- that have become common parts of our communities. Those living in remote places still run the risk of losing it all. Thank you for enlightening article.

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