By Nicholas Kaster, J.D.
Smoking materials were the largest contributor to deaths, according to a recent residential fire loss report.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff has issued a report containing estimates of consumer product-related fires, deaths, injuries, and property losses from unintentional residential fires that occurred from 2016 through 2018. According to staff estimates, there were 362,000 fires, 2,370 deaths, and 10,390 injuries and $7 billion in property losses over the 3-year period from 2016 through 2018. The report found that cooking equipment accounted for the largest percentage of fires, but smoking materials were the largest contributor to deaths during the 2016 through 2018 period (2016 - 2018 Residential Fire Loss Estimates, July 27, 2021).
The estimates were derived from data provided by the U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Survey of Fire Departments for U.S. Fire Experience for 2016 through 2018.
By year, the estimates are:
- 2016: 351,900 fires, 2,410 deaths, 10,370 injuries, and $6.36 billion in property losses;
- 2017: 362,600 fires, 2,230 deaths, 10,060 injuries, and $7.07 billion in property losses; and
- 2018: 371,600 fires, 2,460 deaths, 10,740 injuries, and $7.56 billion in property losses.
Ignition. Consumer products involved in fires can be categorized as "sources of ignition" or "the materials first ignited," the report explained. Sources of ignition can be small, such as candles, or large, like ranges, for example. The larger sources of ignition, e.g., operating equipment, are identified in NFIRS as "equipment." Smaller sources of ignition that are not equipment, such as candles, matches, and lighters, are identified in NFIRS as "heat sources." Consumer products can also be involved as items or materials contributing to flame spread. For this report, CPSC staff produced estimates based on the sources of ignition and the materials first ignited, but not for the items or materials contributing to flame spread.
Equipment involved in ignition. The report found that cooking equipment accounted for the largest percentage of fires. An estimated annual average of 168,600 cooking equipment-related fires from 2016 through 2018 accounted for 46.6 percent of the average annual estimate of total residential fires for the same period. The corresponding death estimates constitute an annual average of 230 deaths, which is 9.9 percent of the average annual estimate of total residential fire deaths. The annual average number of cooking fire injuries for 2016 through 2018 was estimated to be 3,210, which represents 30.9 percent of the total estimated annual average number of injuries for the same period. Much of these losses were associated with range and oven fires.
Heating and cooling equipment fires constituted the second largest share of total residential fires. The estimated annual average of 41,000 fires for 2016 to 2018 was 11.3 percent of the annual average estimate of total residential fires during the same period. The corresponding death estimate is an annual average of 220 deaths, which is 9.2 percent of the average annual estimated number of total residential fire deaths. The corresponding injuries for the 3 years averaged to an annual estimate of 840. This accounts for 8.1 percent of the annual average estimate of total injuries during 2016 to 2018.
An estimated annual average of 18,700 fires was attributable to electrical distribution equipment (e.g., installed wiring, lighting). This is 5.2 percent of the estimated annual average number of residential fires for this period. The annual average death estimate is 190 (8 percent of average annual estimated residential fire deaths); and the injury estimates averaged 610, which is 5.8 percent of the estimated annual average of residential fire injuries.
Items first ignited. For the category "materials first ignited," upholstered furniture was involved in the greatest number of fire deaths. From 2016 through 2018, an estimated annual average of 350 deaths was associated with these fires. This constitutes 15 percent of the estimated annual average of total deaths (from an estimated 1.2 percent of the fires) associated with residential structure fires for the same period. During 2016 to 2018, mattress or bedding ignitions accounted for an annual average of 330 deaths, which is 14.1 percent of the average annual estimated number of total residential fire deaths (from an estimated 1.8 percent of the fires).
The staff report noted that for 2017, the estimated number of deaths when upholstered furniture was the item first ignited declined to 290 (from 510 in 2015 and 370 in 2016), but that number increased to 400 for 2018.
Heat sources. For the category "heat sources," the report found that smoking materials were the largest contributor to deaths, associated with an annual average of 610 deaths from 2016 to 2018. This is 25.6 percent of the estimated annual average of total residential fire deaths. Smoking materials as the heat source in fires, however, comprised only 3 percent of the total estimated residential fires.
Among products that are heat sources, candles had the second highest estimated number of deaths, the report found. The estimated annual average of deaths from candle fires is 80, which is 3.4 percent of the average estimated total number of residential fire deaths from 2016 to 2018. Candles account for an estimated 1.5 percent of the fires.
There were also an estimated 50 deaths from cigarette lighter fires (2.1 percent of the estimated annual average of total residential fire deaths), although lighters are only involved in an estimated 0.4 percent of the fires. On average, matches were involved in an estimated 20 deaths, or 0.8 percent of total deaths annually. Matches were involved in an estimated 0.1 percent of residential fires.
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