Analysis of patterns and trends in all measures of fire loss for all types of home heating equipment and all fuel and power types, including leading causes of ignition.
LATEST ESTIMATES ON MAJOR FIRE CAUSES
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In 2010, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 57,100 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 490 civilian deaths, 1,530 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. The estimated home heating fire total was down 3% from the previous year and 75% from 1980. Associated deaths were up 3% from 2009 but down 52% from 1980. Associated civilian injuries were up by less than 1% compared to 2009 and down by 57% from 1980. Direct property damage adjusted for inflation was also up by less than 1% from 2009 and down by 47% from 1980. “Homes” refers to one- and two-family homes (which include manufactured homes) and apartments (which include townhouses and other multi-family housing).
Overall in 2010, these incidents accounted for 15% of all reported home fires (second highest after cooking), 19% of home fire deaths (second highest after smoking), 15% of home civilian injuries (second highest after cooking), and 11% of the direct property damage (highest share) resulting from home fires. These statistics are estimates derived from Version 5.0 of the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System and NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey.
Stationary (fixed) and portable space heaters, excluding fireplaces, chimneys, and chimney connectors, but including wood stoves, accounted for one-third (32%) of reported 2006-2010 U.S. home heating fires, four out of five (80%) associated civilian deaths, two-thirds (67%) of associated civilian injuries, and half (52%) of associated direct property damage.
Creosote is a sticky, oily, combustible substance created when wood does not burn completely. It rises into the chimney as a liquid and deposits on the chimney wall. A conservative best estimate of creosote fires would combine failure-to-clean fires that were confined to chimney or flue or involved solid-fueled space heaters, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors. This produces estimates of 14,830 reported creosote fires (26% of all home heating fires) per year with associated losses of three civilian deaths, 13 civilian injuries, and $33 million in direct property damage per year.
The leading factors contributing to ignition in home heating equipment fires were failure to clean (27%), heat source too close to combustibles (14%), and unclassified mechanical failure or malfunction (12%). Heat source too close to combustibles was a factor in half (51%) of associated fire deaths.
The leading items first ignited for home heating equipment fires were unclassified item (17%), flammable or combustible gas or liquid (14%), unclassified organic material (8%), structural member or framing (8%), and wire or cable insulation (6%).
Space heaters result in far more fires and losses than central heating devices and have higher risks relative to usage.
Comparisons of different fuel or power options within central heating equipment do not show any specific type to be clearly and consistently better or worse for all types of loss.
Among space heating equipment, risks are highest for electric-powered devices for all measures of loss except deaths, for which risks are similar for all four types of power or fuel. Portable electric devices have higher risk than fixed electric devices.
Water heaters show very large differences with gas-fueled equipment showing higher rates per million user households than electric-powered equipment for fires (63 vs. 59), civilian fire deaths (0.6 vs. 0.0), and civilian fire injuries (3.6 vs. 0.8), and a higher rate per person for direct property damage ($1.7 vs. $0.4).
Home heating fires peak in period from late afternoon to late evening. Home heating fires are less common during 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. This could reflect the practice in many homes of turning down the heat overnight, allowing blankets and bedding to compensate, and of relying less on heating equipment in the middle of the day, when temperatures are at their daily highs and occupants are least likely to be at home (during school and work hours).
Gas-fueled heating devices, particularly space heaters, pose a higher risk of death due to non-fire carbon monoxide poisoning, accounting for 61 of 68 deaths per year involving carbon monoxide poisoning by home heating equipment in 2004-2008. Heating equipment accounted for 60,190 injuries (not limited to fire or burn injuries) reported to hospital emergency rooms in 2011.
Safe Heating Behaviors