Catastrophic multiple-death fires

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Report: NFPA's "Catastrophic Multiple-Death Fires in 2015"
Author: Stephen G. Badger
Issued: September 2016

Incident descriptions and summary statistics on fires causing at least 5 residential deaths and at least 3 non-residential or non-structure deaths.

This report contains overall statistics from NFPA's annual study of catastrophic multiple-death fires, defined as fires or explosions in homes or apartments that result in five or more fire-related deaths, or fires or explosions in all other structures and outside of structures, such as wildfires and vehicle fires that claim three or more lives. The data for this study is obtained by the NFPA from responding fire departments. The report includes patterns of deaths by type of property, time of day, and presence and effectiveness of automatic detection and suppression systems. The report also includes a detailed description of each fire.

Report highlights

  • Nine catastrophic multiple-death fires resulting in 42 fatalities occurred in the U.S. in 2015, the lowest number of catastrophic multiple death fires ever recorded in a year.
  • Four of the fires were in homes, resulting in 23 deaths, with four of the victims under age six.
  • Two of the fires were in non-home structures, and resulting in eight deaths, while three non-structure fires claimed 11 lives, including three firefighters.
  • The deadliest fire of the year killed seven children in one family when combustibles in the kitchen were ignited by a hot plate.
  • A review of fires over the past 10 years found that smoke alarms were missing or inoperable in more than two thirds of the catastrophic multiple-death fires for which smoke alarm details were reported. 

Fires in assembly occupancies have shown to be some of the most deadly when the proper features, systems and construction materials were not present. Nightclubs, theaters and auditoriums differ from office buildings because they contain a large number of people in one main space. 


A fire at an Oakland, CA, warehouse killed at least 30 people on December 2, 2016. Warehouses present special challenges for fire protection because their contents and layouts are conducive to fire spread and present obstacles to manual fire suppression efforts. See NFPA's "Structure Fires in U.S. Warehouses" report.