U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Isaac Sunnock, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron lead firefighter, participates in a live-fire training exercise at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on Sept. 19, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)

Fire Deaths Rise While Injuries from Blazes Decrease, Says USFA Report

Fire-related deaths in the United States have risen in the past 10 years, with the elderly, males, African-Americans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives at a higher risk of perishing in a blaze, according to the 20th edition of Fire in the United States.

The 2008-17 statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Data Center also revealed an increase in property losses from fire, with $14.7 billion in direct losses each year.

With an average of 1,344,100 fires per year, there were 3,190 civilian fire deaths and 16,225 injuries. While fire deaths increased, injuries decreased.

“The annual losses from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters combined in the U.S. average just a fraction of those from fires,” said the report. “The public, the media and local governments are generally unaware of the magnitude and seriousness of the fire problem and how it affects individuals and their families, communities and the nation.”

The risk of civilian fire death was greatest in West Virginia, Alaska and Arkansas, while the 10 most populous states accounted for 49 percent of total fire deaths. Children younger than 15 accounted for 9 percent of all fire deaths, and adults 65 and older accounted for 40 percent. Seventy-eight percent of fire deaths occurred on residential properties, mostly single- or dual-family structures.

“Residential and nonresidential structure fires together constituted 38% of fires, with residential structure fires outnumbering nonresidential structure fires by over 3 to 1. What may be surprising was the large proportion of vehicle fires. In fact, approximately 1 out of every 7 fires to which fire departments responded involved a vehicle,” the report continued, noting 15 percent of fire deaths are attributed to vehicle fires. “Great attention is given to large, multiple-death fires in public places, such as hotels, nightclubs and office buildings; however, fires that kill 10 or more people are few in number and constitute only a small portion of overall fire deaths. Furthermore, public properties are generally required by local codes to have built-in fire suppression systems. The area with the largest problem is most commonly overlooked — in people’s homes.”

Outdoor fires, including wildfires, were cited as a growing concern and accounted for 4 percent of fire deaths. Losses from wildfires “may be understated because the destruction of trees, grass, etc., is often given zero value in fire incident reports if it is not commercial cropland or timber.”

Cooking and heating were cited as the causes of 61 percent of residential fires. Fatal blazes most likely occurred due to unintentional or careless actions, followed by fires still under investigation, intentionally set blazes, and smoking.

Reducing fire risk is a combination of smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, stronger fire codes, better construction techniques and materials, better public education, and improving firefighter equipment and training.

Data is incomplete, the report stressed, because of a lack of uniform reporting among fire departments. “A very large number of fires are not reported to the fire service at all. Most are believed to be small fires in the home or industry that go out by themselves or are extinguished by the occupant,” the report added. “Special surveys of homes and businesses are needed to estimate the unreported fires.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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