Journalist, Cherry Park

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Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
March 18, 2013


State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

US Fire Data Explained in Detail

The Midwest region is the riskiest place in the United States to live, in terms of fire incidents, death and injury rates, and property losses from fire.

This information is revealed in a survey recently released by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of the four major regions of the US (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West).

The survey, which covers the five years from 2007 to 2011 and also provides details of long-term trends from as far back as 1983, shows that, while in the whole of the US there was an average 4.6 fires per thousand people, the average for the Midwest was 5.4 per thousand.

The Midwest also had the highest annual average fire death rate, at 13.0 per million people, and the highest civilian fire injury rate, at 71.8 per million people, 27 per cent higher than the national average.

The Southern states, which have the highest population (37 per cent of the US) and highest proportion of inhabitants below the poverty level (17 per cent), also fared badly in the survey, equalling the Midwest’s fire incident rate of 5.4 per thousand people and coming in just below, at 12.8 per million people, in terms of fire death rates.

The South and the Midwest have had the highest rates of fire incidents since 2003. For the 2007 to 2011 period, the risk of dying in a home fire was 28 per cent higher in the Midwest and 24 per cent higher in the South than in the whole of the US. The South had the highest civilian death rate for most community sizes under 100,000. The South had the highest fire death rate for most of the longer period 1983 to 2011, while the Midwest overtook it in four of the last seven years.

People living in the West are the safest of all. Their risk of death is 48 per cent less in a home fire, and risk of injury is 36 per cent less than for the whole of the US. The West had the lowest death (5.8 per million) and injury (41.4 per million) rates for the 2007-2011 period and the lowest number of fires at 3.4 per thousand people. For the period 1983 to 2002, the West also consistently had the lowest fire rate.

Property loss
In terms of property loss to fire, the Midwest and the West had the highest rates per capita at US$47.50 and $42.80, respectively, the high rate for the West reflecting the Southern California wildfires in 2007 and 2008. The poorer South had the lowest, at $32.40. The South and the Midwest had the highest property loss rates for the majority of the period 1983 to 2011.

Average residential property loss per fire was highest in the West ($23,400), about 28 per cent higher than the nationwide figure. The West also had the highest average non-residential property loss rate per fire ($35,100). (All property loss figures were converted to 2007 dollars to adjust for inflation during the five-year period.)

Causes of fire losses
The main causes of fire deaths nationwide in 2006-2010 were fires involving smoking materials, which though accounting for only 5 per cent of home fires, were responsible for nearly a quarter of home fire deaths. Other leading causes of home fire deaths were fires involving heating equipment (20 per cent), cooking equipment (15 per cent), fires involving electrical distribution systems (13 per cent), and intentionally set fires (12 per cent).

The majority of fire injuries were caused by fires involving cooking equipment, which accounted for one in three home fire injuries. The South at 42 per cent and Midwest at 41 per cent had higher occurrences of such injuries, while the West had a lower occurrence (25 per cent) than other regions. Twelve per cent of injuries were caused by fires involving heating equipment.

The leading causes of home property loss were fires involving heating equipment (13 per cent), exposure fires (12 per cent), and fires involving cooking equipment and electrical distribution systems (11 per cent each).

Fires involving cooking equipment accounted for 42 per cent of all fires in the home in the US, followed by fires involving heating equipment (17 per cent). The Northeast had a higher incidence of cooking equipment fires than other regions (56 per cent), while the West and the Northeast both had a high occurrence of fires involving heating equipment (20 per cent each). The Northeast had more apartment fires (15.4 per cent compared to 6.6 per cent national average), probably because 34 per cent of its residents live in structures of two or more housing units, compared to the nationwide figure of 26 per cent.

Another study of fire death rates in each state, released by the NFPA late last year, shows that the long-term trend in fire death rates has been falling considerably for almost every state since 1980. In the five most recent years analyzed (2006-2010) by this study, Mississippi had the highest average fire death rate. Southeastern states accounted for eight of the ten highest rates, with Alaska and Oklahoma as the other two.

Fire deaths per million population by State 2003-2007

Overview of the US fire problem
In 2011, there were 1,389,500 fires reported in the United States, leading to 3,005 civilian deaths, 61 firefighter deaths, 70,090 firefighter injuries, 17,500 civilian injuries, and $11.7 billion in direct property damage, and requiring a fire department response every 23 seconds.

There was a civilian fire death every 208 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 30 minutes in 2011. Home fires caused 2,520, or 84 per cent, of the civilian fire deaths. With this statistic in mind, the NFPA recommends five major strategies aimed at home fires as key to reducing the overall fire death toll:

  • More widespread public fire safety education on fire prevention
  • Increased installation of smoke detectors and development and practice of escape plans
  • Wider use of residential sprinklers
  • Additional ways to make home products more fire safe
  • The special fire safety needs of high-risk groups — e.g., the young, elderly, poor, and people with disabilities — need to be addressed.

Explaining regional differences
Socioeconomic and behavioural risk factors are important in explaining the higher rates of death from fire in some states and regions. When the five-year average rates are compared to state differences, many of these show significant correlations, including:

  • Poverty (44 per cent of statistical variation explained)
  • Race (43 per cent)
  • Smoking (38 per cent)
  • Rural population (36 per cent)
  • Education (19 per cent)

Other factors that can contribute to the differences in the rates of fire, death, injury, and property loss among between regions include climate, age distribution, distribution of sizes of communities, housing characteristics, and type of heating equipment.

The report does not offer many explanations or go into greater detail about why there are such large (in some cases) regional variations. For example, the West, almost as poor a region as the South, with 15.3 per cent of its inhabitants below the poverty level as opposed to the South’s 16.8 per cent, and with a similar age distribution and number of high school graduates, has much lower rates of fires and resulting death, injury, and damage to property. Poverty alone cannot explain the increased incidence of fire.

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Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
March 18, 2013 10:26 am

Love playing with all these graphs. It’s really encouraging (but not surprising) to see the trend on the first graphs to do with fire deaths generally across the US. From a nationwide high of 26 deaths per million in 1985 to a low in 2011 of 9.6 per million is a great achievement on all parts. I wonder how low can it go?

March 20, 2013 5:12 am

Aside from highlighting the encouraging downward trend, I think it’s well worth it to pay attention to the causes of these fires. This data can be used to set up awareness programs in order to disseminate information about unsafe practices that people do on a regular basis at home.

March 20, 2013 5:12 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

I like how graphs are able to present trends and impact you with the results through the visuals at the same time. I agree that the trends are encouraging. Hopefully we’ll see a continuous decrease to this trend.
Rob wondered how low it can go–all I can say is that I hope that it will be able to go as low as it possibly can.

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
March 20, 2013 5:56 am
Reply to  ITs_Hazel

Sadly the main causes of death and damage were the same we see again and again. Smoking, cooking, and heating equipment. Throw some alcohol in there and you’ve got a potent mix (I read yesterday that drink was involved in 1 in 3 fire deaths in the UK county of Kent)

March 21, 2013 8:27 am

Rob I agree the current trend is a plus but as we all know its the smoke damage both Personal and Structural that has the most devestating of effects.
I will keep you posted of Developements with regards to a “New” Smoke Management System which affords.
– 18 Minutes Escape Times
– A positive impact onSmoke and Heat Management
– Fire Fighter operational positive working and safety implications.
At FSEG (Greenwich University)
Best Regards
Paul Evans

March 21, 2013 9:37 am
Reply to  ITs_Hazel

Hazel I think as the time changes people got more mature in dealing with these natural or man made calamities. I believe every incident which occurs brought with it various lessons for future and I think we have learned quite a bit and improved which is also indicated with the statistics.

April 3, 2013 2:30 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

reality of human nature to repeat itself… over and over again… it sad but people say o… it would never happens to me… but… it happens… statics is here to prove it… sad but real…

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
April 4, 2013 9:00 am
Reply to  Ashfire

What sort of system are we talking about here? Something completely new?

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
April 4, 2013 9:04 am
Reply to  Sheh

Take for instance the introduction in Europe last year of ‘Reduced Ignition Propensity’ cigarettes (or RIP cigaretters, amusingly) which are engineered to put themselves out quicker after being discarded. They should reduce cigarette-started fires across the continent. I think the US has them as well, but no idea where the rest of the world is with them.

April 22, 2013 3:36 am
Reply to  Rob Ratcliff

Yes Rob
Our evolutionary System has many attributes I would like to meet and discuss these with you at some point.
Best Regards
Paul Evans