Incident descriptions and summary statistics on fires causing at least 5 deaths.
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In 2011, firefighters in the United States responded to an estimated 1,389,500 fires, 386,000 of which occurred in residential structures, 98,500 in nonresidential structures, and 905,000 outside of structures. These fires accounted for an estimated 3,005 deaths, 2,550 of which occurred in residential structures, 90 in nonresidential structures, and 365 in fires outside of structures.
Twenty-three of these fires were categorized as catastrophic multiple-death fires, defined here as fires or explosions in homes or apartments that result in five or more fire-related deaths, or as fires or explosions in all other structures, as well as outside of structures, such as wildfires and vehicle fires, that claim three or more lives.
These 23 fires resulted in 114 fire deaths, including 16 children under the age of six. They accounted for 0.002 percent of the total estimated fires and 3.8 percent of the total fire deaths for 2011. By comparison, there were 29 catastrophic multiple-death fires in 2010, resulting in 175 deaths, including 30 children under age six.
The worst catastrophic fires each year often claim a dozen or more victims. In 2011, no single fire resulted in losses of that magnitude, but there was an unusually high proportion of catastrophic fires that began with explosions. Six catastrophic multiple-death fires last year were caused by explosions. This is 26 percent of the total number of fires and resulted in 28 deaths, which was 25 percent of the deaths. Two of the victims were children under the age of six. Three of the explosions involved storage properties: a grain elevator, a fireworks storage bunker, and a pipeline near an oil storage tank at an oil well. Two others originated in single-family homes, and one occurred at a steel powder manufacturing plant.