Home Fires Involving Air Conditioning, Fans, or Related Equipment
By John R. Hall, Jr.
In 2007, air conditioning, fans, or related equipment was involved in an estimated 8,100 reported U.S. home structure fires, resulting in 26 civilian deaths, 294 civilian injuries, and $106 million in direct property damage. The number of these fires has increased each of the last three years.
In 2003–2007, the average of 7,200 reported home structure fires per year involving air conditioning, fans, or related equipment included 2,500 per year involving central and room air conditioners and 3,800 per year involving fans. Heat pumps accounted for 500 fires per year. No other specific type of equipment accounted for 300 or more fires per year. Air conditioners and fans also accounted for nearly all the associated losses.
Air conditioners and heat pumps have comparable numbers of fires relative to usage. In 2005, 82.4 million housing units had air conditioning without heat pumps, 53.5 million central, and 28.9 million room air conditioners in one or more rooms. In 2005, heat pumps were used as central air conditioning equipment in 12.3 million households. This gives heat pumps a higher rate of fires relative to usage but lower rates of associated loss.
In 2008, an estimated 31,220 injuries were reported to hospital emergency rooms as involving air conditioners, fans, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, and heat pumps. The leading types of injuries were lacerations, contusions or abrasions, and strains or sprains.
The leading factors contributing to ignition for air conditioning, fans, or related equipment are mostly mechanical or electrical failures. One-third of fires involving air conditioning, fans, or related equipment began with ignition of wire or cable insulation. The leading areas of origin for home fires involving air conditioning or related equipment are bathroom and bedroom. The leading areas of origin for fire deaths are bedroom and living room, family room, or den.
For all air conditioning, fans, or related equipment combined, the three peak months of June, July, and August account for 40 percent of the fires. June, July, and August accounted for 55 percent of air conditioner fires and 33 percent of fires involving fans.
U.S. Vehicle Fire Trends and Patterns
By Marty Ahrens
In 2003 – 2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 287,000 vehicle fires per year. These fires caused an average of 480 civilian deaths, 1,525 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage annually.
Ninety-three percent of reported vehicle fires and 92 percent of vehicle fire deaths involved highway-type vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses, recreational vehicles, and motorcycles. The term “highway vehicle fires” is used to describe the type of vehicle, not the location of the fire. During 2003 – 2007, the average of 267,600 highway vehicle fires reported per year caused an average of 441 civilian deaths, 1,326 civilian fire injuries, and $1.0 billion in direct property damage.
On average, 31 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour. These fires killed one person a day. Overall, highway vehicles fires were involved in 17 percent of reported U.S. fires, 12 percent of U.S. fire deaths, 8 percent of U.S. civilian fire injuries, and 9 percent of the direct property damage from reported fires.
Some form of mechanical failure or malfunction, such as leaks or breaks, backfires, or worn-out parts, contributed to 49 percent of the highway vehicle fires and 11 percent of the associated deaths. Electrical failures or malfunctions contributed to 23 percent of the highway vehicle fires but less than 1 percent of the associated deaths. Although collisions or overturns were factors in only 3 percent of the fires, 58 percent of the deaths resulted from these incidents. Older vehicles were more likely to have a fire caused by mechanical or electrical failures.
Eight percent of the highway vehicle fires were intentionally set. More than half of these intentional fires originated in the operator or passenger area.
Almost two-thirds of the highway vehicle fires began in the engine, running gear, or wheel area. Thirty-five percent of the associated civilian fire deaths, 46 percent of the civilian fire injuries, and 53 percent of the direct property damage resulted from fires that originated in this type of area. Only 2 percent of the highway vehicle fires started in the fuel tank or fuel line area, but these fires caused 18 percent of the associated deaths.
Although only 14 percent of the U.S. population was between 15 and 24 in 2003 – 2007, 25 percent of the people killed in highway vehicle fires during these years were in this age group, giving them a risk of vehicle fire death nearly twice that of the general population. This group also had the highest risk of vehicle fire injury. Seventy-eight percent of the people who died from highway vehicle fires and 79 percent of those who were injured were male.
During 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 236,000 fires involving vehicles of all types, including highway and other non-road vehicles such as boats, aircraft, and construction, yard, and agricultural vehicles. These fires caused an estimated 365 civilian deaths, 1,065 civilian injuries, and $1.5 billion in direct property damage. Vehicle fires, as well as civilian deaths and injuries they caused, were at their lowest point in 2008 since NFPA began tracking vehicle fires and losses with its current methods.
Home Candle Fires
By Marty Ahrens
During 2003–2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 15,260 home structure fires started by candles per year. These fires caused an annual average of 166 civilian deaths, 1,289 civilian fire injuries, and $450 million in direct property damage. Candles caused 4 percent of the reported home fires, 6 percent of home fire deaths, 10 percent of home fire injuries, and 7 percent of direct property damage during this period. On average, 42 home candle fires were reported per day.
During the five-year period of 2003-2007, more than one-third of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 44 percent of the associated deaths and 49 percent of the associated injuries. The 15 percent that started in living rooms, family rooms, or dens caused 21 percent of the deaths. Fourteen percent started in bathrooms, and 11 percent began in kitchens or cooking areas.
An unclassified type of furniture or utensil was the item first ignited in 11 percent of these incidents. Eleven percent began with a mattress or bedding; these fires caused 19 percent of the home candle fire deaths. Nine percent started when a curtain, blind, or drapery ignited. Cabinetry was first ignited in 8 percent of these fires. Upholstered furniture was first ignited in 6 percent of the fires; these incidents caused 15 percent of the home candle fire deaths.
Thirteen percent of the home candle fires occurred in December, 1.6 times the monthly average of 8 percent. From January to November, decorations were first ignited in only 4 percent of the home candle fires. This jumped to 13 percent in December. The top five days for home candle fires were Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, Halloween, and December 23.
Falling asleep was a factor in 12 percent percent of the home candle fires and 36 percent of the associated deaths.
More than half of the home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was left or came too close to the candle. Unattended equipment or abandoned materials or products were contributing factors in 20 percent of these fires. Four percent were started by people, usually children, playing with the candle.
From 1980, the first year of available data, to 1990, the number of home candle fires fell. They then started climbing. Incidents peaked in 2001 and have been falling since then. Even so, the estimate of 12,700 fires reported in 2007 is still almost twice the 6,800 reported in 1990. From 2006 to 2007, reported home candle fires fell 10 percent.
The share of home structure fires started by candles jumped from 1 percent in the early 1980s to 5 percent in 1999, 2001, and 2002, partly because total home fires had declined so much since 1980 and partly because candle fires had increased. The share fell to 4 percent from 2004 to 2006, inclusive. In 2007, the share dropped to 3 percent.
An NFPA study of 86 news clips and fire service reports about identified fatal home candle fires in 2003–2008 revealed that candles used for light in the absence of electrical power caused about one of every five of the studied fatal home candle fires and one of every four candle fire deaths.
By John R. Hall, Jr.
In 2008, 7,000 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. The trend in fireworks-related injuries has been mostly up since 1996, except for spikes in 2000–2001, primarily due to celebrations around the advent of a new millennium, and in 2005, and a sharp drop in 2008, the latest year with complete statistics. Injuries were higher in 1984–1995 than in recent years but lower in the mid-1970s and earlier.
In 2008, an estimated 22,500 reported fires were started by fireworks. These fires resulted in one civilian death, 40 civilian injuries, and $42 million in direct property damage.
During 2004–2008, the largest numbers of fires associated with fireworks were grass fires at 9,800 per year; brush fires at 6,500; dumpster fires at 2,500; unclassified or unknown-type natural vegetation fires at 1,900; and outside trash, rubbish, or waste fires at 1,800.
In 2004–2008, three people per year were killed in fires started by fireworks, while six people per year were killed directly by fireworks. These estimates may overlap, because fireworks can directly kill someone while also starting a fatal fire.
Two of five victims of fireworks injuries in 2008 were under age 15. The highest rates of injuries per million population were for teens ages 15 to 19 and children ages 5 to 9. Males accounted for 62 percent of fireworks injuries.
The majority of 2008 fireworks injuries were to extremities: hands or fingers for 29 percent, legs for 18 percent, and arms, shoulders, or wrists for 6 percent. Most of the rest were to parts of the head, including the eye.
In 2008, five out of six emergency room fireworks injuries involved fireworks that federal regulations permit consumers to use.
The risk of fire death relative to exposure shows fireworks to be the riskiest consumer product for death due to fire.