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Once a fire starts in your house, you may only have two minutes to escape.

According to the American Red Cross, that time crunch doesn’t leave room to comprehend the severity of the situation, gather sentimental valuables and expensive electronics and evacuate the building.

The July 12 fire at Tivoli Apartments kick-started a wave of fear and caution among residents of surrounding neighborhoods. Fires and other disasters come at unexpected times, and officials say the best course of action is early preparation to decrease the amount of damage.

The No. 1 rule in the event of a fire alarm going off is to get out of the house or apartment as soon as possible.

“Many individuals remain inside thinking the alarm is a test or malfunctioning because they don’t see fire. The fire may be in a wall, below the apartment, in the roof structure or another unit,” said Alan Harris, public information officer for the Seminole County Fire Department.

Rising smoke can cloud vision and make it harder to breathe, so crawling on the ground and breathing through a wet towel will make it easier to get to an exit. Make sure to notify roommates in the apartment of a potential fire.

If a door handle feels warm, find a second exit, said Marcel Fernandez, UCF’s senior fire safety engineer, and Michelle Humphries, a fire safety coordinator at UCF.

Once outside, call the fire department to report the alarm.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 84 percent of dorm fires between 2007 and 2011 started in the kitchen. The two following causes are by smoking and open flames, Harris said.

“If a fire occurs, water may not be the best way to extinguish the fire — especially when it is a cooking oil fire. This will just spread the fire,” he said.

The NFPA recommends only plugging one heat-inducing appliance into an outlet at a time to decrease the chance of an electrical fire.

Harris noted the importance of making sure fire alarms and extinguishers function properly. For utmost safety, the batteries in the alarm should be checked every month.

According to the Red Cross, “60 percent of house-fire deaths occur in homes with no working smoke alarms.”

For documents that will be difficult or impossible to replace, it is best to keep them in another location. This includes social security cards, passports, insurance policies, birth certificates and other financial data.

“A fire safe is a good investment, but you can cost-effectively scan and save important documents to a secure electronic location,” said Fernandez and Humphries.

Remember, above all else, to move quickly and evacuate the building.

“Personal items are not worth risking your life for. The priority should be to get out safely, and anything that delays that is an unnecessary risk taken,” Fernandez and Humphries agreed.

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Noelle Campbell is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Noellecampz or email her at NoelleC@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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