Fires in vacant buildings

In 2003-2006, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 31,000 structure fires in vacant buildings. These fires resulted in an average of 50 civilian deaths, 141 civilian injuries, and $642 million in direct property damage per year.,/p>

Facts & figures

  • Sixty-three percent of vacant building fires in 2003-2006 occurred in homes, with 58% in one-or two-family dwellings and 5% in apartments. 
  • Forty-three percent of vacant building fires were intentionally set. Vacant buildings accounted for 25% of all intentionally set structure fires. 
  • Only 6% of all reported structure fires were at vacant buildings, but they accounted for 13% of the firefighter injuries incurred at structure fires. 
  • From 1998 to 2007, 15 firefighters were fatally injured at vacant building fires.

Source: NFPA’s "Vacant Building Fires" by Marty Ahrens, April 2009.

Also see: Fact sheet on fires in vacant buildings. (PDF, 27 KB)


Provisions in the 2009 edition of NFPA 1, Fire Code

10.13 Vacant Buildings and Premises. 

10.13.1 Every person owning or having charge or control of any vacant building, premises, or portion thereof shall remove all combustible storage, waste, refuse, and vegetation and shall lock, barricade, or otherwise secure the building or premises to prohibit entry by unauthorized persons. The requirement of 10.13.1 shall not apply to vacation or resort facilities, buildings used on a seasonal basis, or the temporary vacancy of a building for tenant change or remodeling purposes.

10.13.2 All fire protection systems shall be maintained in service in vacant buildings, unless otherwise approved by the AHJ.* With the approval of the AHJ, fire protection and fire alarm systems in vacant buildings shall be permitted to be removed from service. When required by the AHJ, other systems or components pertaining to fire protection shall be maintained.

10.13.3 The AHJ shall have the authority to require an inspection and test of any fire protection system or fire alarm system that has been out of service for 30 days or more before restored back into service.

* Issues to be considered by the AHJ should include, but not be limited to, the availability of utilities to the building.

Excerpted from NFPA 1, Fire Code (2009 edition)

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