Home Fire Fatalities and Simple Steps to Prevent Them

Between 2007 and 2011, the NFPA reported a yearly average of 366,600 home structure fires resulting in 2,570 civilian deaths, 13,210 civilian injuries, and over $7 billion dollars in damage.¹ That’s an average of seven deaths per day. In 2013, a home structure fire was reported every 85 seconds in the United States.

house fireOne home fire fatality occurs for approximately every 142 incidences. But where, how, and when a fire starts affects that proportion. Christmas tree-related fires, for example, result in one death per 40 incidents. (Christmas tree fires cause about six deaths, 22 injuries, and $18.3 million in property damage every year.²) Fires starting in bedrooms and living rooms also result in disproportionate fatality rates. Upholstered furniture is often the first household item to catch flame. While home fires tend to peak between 5:00-8:00 pm, half of all home fire fatalities result from fires beginning between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am.

Which month a fire occurs affects its danger potential, too. June through September account for the lowest incidence and fatality rates of any time of year, though home fires caused by child play and grills tend to peak. January is by far the deadliest month for home fire victims. While the monthly average is 8%, the months between December and March each represent between 11-14% of the year’s home fire deaths, and each has higher proportions of fatalities than incidences.

Why are winter’s home fires deadlier than at any other time of the year? The combination of space heaters, decorations, parties, and lots of time indoors that comes with the holidays makes for a particularly hazardous atmosphere. But it’s not until April that the number of fires caused by Christmas trees, electrical distribution/lighting, candles, and heating come down from their annual highs.

Top 5 causes of preventable home fire fatalities

Together, the following five causes account for 74% of all home fire fatalities  between 2007 and 2011. Three of the five causes have fatality rates that peak in winter; smoking deaths, on the other hand, rise in April and May, while cooking deaths remain steady throughout the year. Following the relevant safety recommendations when smoking, using heat, cooking, and setting up electrical arrangements and candles will cut your chances of having a fire in your home substantially. Nobody wants a home fire, but few people know how to avoid the common mistakes that can cause them.

1. Smoking Materials

Lit tobacco products but not lighting tools such as matches and lighters are “smoking materials”. Accounting for only 5% of home fires but causing 22% of all home fire fatalities, tobacco-related fires tend to be the deadliest, year-round. Usually trash, mattresses, bedding, and upholstered furniture are the first to ignite in these fires. One in four fatal victims is not actually the one whose smoking material started the fire. The elderly population is most at risk: Though adults over 65 are less likely to smoke and make up 13% of the population, they are the victims of nearly half of all tobacco-related fire deaths.³

The NFPA has some valuable recommendations for reducing smoking fires: Smokers should avoid smoking indoors.

Make sure your ashtray can’t tip over and, if it does, that whatever it’s on is sturdy and not flammable. Balancing a saucer on an armchair is not ideal.

  • Douse ashes in sand or water before tossing them out.
  • If you have smokers in your house, check regularly for hidden cigarette butts.
  • Never smoke near medical oxygen.
  • To prevent a deadly cigarette fire, you have to be alert. You won’t be if you are sleepy, have been drinking, or have taken medicine or other drugs.
  • Opt for fire-safe cigarettes.
  • Put matches and lighters far out of the reach of curious children.

2. Heating Equipment

Heating equipment  is responsible for 8,800 fires and 19% of deaths by home fire annually. Naturally, home heating fires peak between December and January (half of the year’s heating-related fires occur between December and February) and don’t drop significantly until April.

The biggest factor leading to heating home incidences is poor maintenance. Failing to clean creosote, a wood preservative, from chimneys and other solid-fueled heating equipment creates a fire hazard. The leading factor contributing to deaths, on the other hand, is leaving heating equipment too close to furniture, bedding, and other materials that can burn. A vast majority of these fires involve space heaters 

The NFPA recommends the following heating safety tips:

  • Keep a three-foot radius clear of children and any flammable items around equipment like your furnace, fireplace or open fire, wood stove, or space heater.
  • Don’t use an oven as a heater.
  • Employ qualified professionals to set up any type of heating system for your home and inspect heating equipment (and chimneys!) every year.
  • Don’t leave portable heaters on when you’re asleep or leave the room.
  • Fuel-burning space heaters require a certain kind of fuel. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Keep cool ashes in a metal container away from your home, and use a sturdy screen in front of your fireplace.
  • Test all your smoke alarms every month.

3. Cooking Equipment

Causing 156,600 home fires annually—more than twice the incidence rate of its runner-up—cooking equipment resulted in many more home fires (and injuries!) than any other home fire cause. Thankfully, cooking fires are not as lethal as they are common. Only 17% of total home fire fatalities were caused by fires started by cooking equipment. Fires started by ranges or igniting clothes tend to result in a disproportionate number of deaths.

The NFSA has many resources  related to cooking fires, including a section of safety tips for prevention.

  • The leading cause of cooking fires is simply leaving cooking unattended. Don’t use a stove or stove top if you’re sleepy, have consumed alcohol, or are distracted.
  • Don’t leave the kitchen if you are frying, grilling, or broiling. For simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling, stay alert and don’t leave your home. Check in regularly and use a timer.
  • Keep anything flammable a safe distance away from your stove top.

What if you already have a cooking fire?

Over 50% of cooking injuries occur when victims try to fight the fire themselves instead of seeking help. If it’s a small grease fire, slide a lid over the pan to smother it. If it’s an oven fire, turn off the heat and leave the door closed. Then get out of the house, close the door behind you, and call 911. If you do decide to fight the fire, make sure everyone else is on the way out of the house and that you have a clear escape route.

4. Electric and Lighting

Electrical distribution and lighting equipment fires aren’t caused by electrical failures, though electrical failures are often a factor. Instead, they account for any fire ignited by a lighting or electricity-related source, such as a light bulb.

Wiring and related equipment make up a majority of these ignition sources. Such fires are not as common as even intentional fires, but they tend to be deadly. They account for 6% of all home fire incidences and 13% of home fire fatalities. In 2011, they caused an estimated 295 civilian deaths. Fluorescent lights are safer than incandescent lights (which are safer than halogen lights), yet homes had twice as many incandescent lights as fluorescent lights in 2010.

  • Make sure outlets and electrical cords have an appropriate load.
  • Use appropriate cords for indoor and outdoor use.
  • Make sure to turn off Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and halogen lights before you go to bed or leave home.
  • Have a professional check your home’s wiring every year.

5. Candles

While about 14 times less frequent than cooking equipment home fires and less common even than fires caused by clothes dryers and washers, candle-related fires account for 4% of home fire fatalities. Home candle fires peak in December and January. Most December candle fires naturally involve seasonal decorations, which are implicated in three times more candle fires in December as in January or November. Just as smokers should refrain from handling a lit cigarette if tired or intoxicated, candles should be used responsibly, kept far away from upholstered furniture and other flammable materials, and completely extinguished before bedtime—especially during the holidays.

The NFPA’s safety tips for candle-related fires include special instructions for religious candle safety:

  • Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn. More than half of home candle fires occur when some form of combustible material is too close to a candle.
  • Don’t go to sleep in a place with lit candles, or don’t even light candles in a place you might fall asleep accidentally. Falling asleep was a factor in 11% percent of these fires and 37% of the associated deaths.
  • Don’t walk out on a burning candle; blow them out if you leave a room. Unattended equipment or abandoned materials or products were contributing factors in 18% of home candle fires.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children, and never leave a child in a room with a candle, even if he or she is sleeping. Four percent of home candle fires were started by people playing with candles—many of these were, of course, children.
  • Make sure to place candles on stable surfaces in strong and secure holders, out of high traffic areas. Two percent of these fires start when the candle was bumped into or knocked over. Improper containers or storage was a factor in another 2% of the fires.
  • For religious candle use, the same safety recommendations apply. In addition, make sure handheld candles do not pass from person to person, dip unlit candles into the flame of a lit candle in lighting services, and make sure continuously burning candles are enclosed in glass and surrounded by a sink, metal tray, or water.

As always, we are here to help you any way we can. Please don’t hesitate to call or email if you need us.

The Deerfield Team


¹Ahrens, Marty. “Home Structure Fires.” April 2013: http://www. nfpa.org/research/reports-and-statistics/fires-by-property-type/residential/home-structure-fires

² Hall, John R. “Home Christmas Tree and Holiday Light Fires.” National Fire Protection Association. November 2013: Christmas Tree And Holiday Light Fires.pdf

3 Hall, John R. “The Smoking Material Problem.” National Fire Protection Association, July 2013: http://www.nfpa.org/research/reports-and-statistics/fire-causes/smoking-materials

4 Hall, John R. “Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment .” National Fire Protection Association, October 2013: U.S. Home Heating Fires Fact Sheet.pdf


Fire Causes by Month. National Fire Protection Association, June 2014: Fire Causes by Month.pdf

Original link: http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2015/02/23/its-house-fire-season-here-are-the-8-most-common


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