The Boston-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) last week released new research showing many apartment and private home fires could be eliminated if occupants took more diligent care while engaging in a number of commonplace activities, including cooking, smoking and using space heaters.
“When we do this fire report, cooking continues to be the leading cause of home fires,” NFPA spokeswoman Lorraine Carli tells MHN. “And these cooking fires are the result of people leaving cooking unattended.”
Although cooking accidents are the leading cause of fires, smoking is the leading cause of residential fire deaths, in part because victims often fall asleep while smoking, Carli says. Fires from heating equipment like space heaters are the second leading cause of residential fire deaths, Carli says. Space heaters cause a smaller percentage of fires in residential settings, but result in a disproportionately high number of deaths. That, Carli says, is “because the victims are very close to the space heater, or because it ignites bedding or curtains that go up very quickly.”
The NFPA report covers five years from 2005 to 2009, inclusive. U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 373,900 home structure fires annually during that period, Carli says. Apartments made up 29 percent of all residential fires reported; the remaining 71 percent were in private homes. Seventeen percent of all deaths and 31 percent of injuries from fire were in apartments.
During the period researched, approximately one in every 310 households per year suffered a reported residential fire. An average of 2,650 civilians died each year in residential fires, or about seven per day, while 12,890 were injured yearly. The annual cost in direct property damage was $7.1 billion.
Not unexpectedly, the report pointed up the importance of smoke detectors. About two-thirds of the residential fire deaths occurred in settings where there were no smoke alarms present, or where smoke alarms were not actually working. “The big message there is that you have, and that you maintain, smoke alarms in your home or apartment,” Carli says.
To avoid fires altogether, the NFPA urges residents of both homes and apartments to follow several common-sense practices. First, make sure you take care while cooking, and don’t leave cooking unattended, Carli says. Second, ask any smokers in the household to smoke outside, and if that’s not possible, use deep and heavy ashtrays inside the home or apartment. Also keep space heaters at least three feet away from any material that could burn.
The NFPA is an international organization established in Boston in 1896. The organization reports its mission is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, and training and education.