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Report: NFPA's "High-Rise Building Fires"
Author: Marty Ahrens
Issued: August 2016

This report provides estimated annual averages of fires and associated losses in U.S. high-rise building fires during five-year period of 2009-2013. This includes any fire in a structure at least seven stories in height above ground.  Details are provided about high-rise fires in five occupancies: apartments or other –multi-family housing; hotels; dormitories or dormitory type properties; facilities that care for the sick; and office buildings. Fire protection, fire spread, areas of origin, and fire causes in high-rise buildings are compared with those in shorter buildings.  

Key findings

  • The two deadliest high-rise fires in U.S. history were caused by terrorism. The fires and building collapses after the planes flew into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 killed 2,666 people, not including the 157 passengers and crew on the two planes. On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb outside a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City killed 169 people.  
  • In 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 14,500 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings per year. 
  • Five property types account for three quarters (73%) of high-rise fires: apartments or other –multi-family housing; hotels; dormitories or dormitory type properties; facilities that care for the sick; and office buildings.
  • High-rise fires are more likely to have fire detection, sprinklers and to be built of fire-resistive construction and are less likely to spread beyond the room or floor of origin than fires in shorter buildings.
  • Most high-rise building fires begin on floors no higher than the 6th story.  

Percentage of fires that spread beyond the room and floor of origin