U.S. Structure Fires in Eating and Drinking Establishments
NFPA Journal® January/February 2011
By Ben Evarts
During the five-year period of 2004–2008, NFPA estimates that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,160 structure fires in eating and drinking establishments per year. These fires caused an annual average of 3 civilian deaths, 100 civilian fire injuries, and $229 million in direct property damage. Reported fires in this occupancy group fell 64 percent from 23,300 in 1980 to 8,370 in 2008.
Cooking equipment was involved in more than half of the fires in eating and drinking establishments. Deep fryers, in which 24 percent of all fires occurred, and ranges or cook tops, which were responsible for 10 percent, were the most common equipment involved. Deep fryers also accounted for the largest share of civilian injuries of any type of equipment involved in ignition.
Fires in eating and drinking establishments do not vary dramatically by hour of the day, day of the week, or month of the year. There appear to be peaks for property damage in March, between 3:00 a.m. and 3:59 a.m., and Tuesday, but these are all due to the impact of one fire with unusually high property damage. Even without the impact of this one fire, however, property damage per fire is still higher between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Fifty-five percent of the fires in eating and drinking establishments began in the kitchen or cooking area. These fires caused 59 percent of the civilian injuries and 29 percent of the direct property damage. Eighty-six percent of the fires were confined to the room of origin.
The 5 percent of fires that were intentionally set in these properties caused 10 percent of the direct property damage.
In eating and drinking establishments, deaths per 1,000 fires were 100 percent lower and property damage per fire was 73 percent lower when wet pipe sprinklers were present, compared with no automatic extinguishing equipment present.
U.S. Structure Fires in Office Properties
By Ben Evarts
During the five-year period of 2004–2008, NFPA estimates that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 3,830 office properties per year. The vast majority of these fires, which caused an annual average of 4 civilian deaths, 37 civilian fire injuries, and $108 million in direct property damage, occurred in business offices. Reported fires in this occupancy group fell 65 percent from 10,570 in 1980 to 3,740 in 2008.
Fewer fires occur in this occupancy on the weekends, since they are less likely to be fully populated. The peak times of day for these fires were between noon and 3 p.m. Only 20 percent occurred between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., but these fires accounted for 55 percent of the direct property damage. Similarly, 19 percent of fires occurred on weekends, but they caused 30 percent of the associated property loss. These findings highlight the need for automatic detection and extinguishing equipment to protect these properties when they are not occupied.
Cooking equipment was involved in 25 percent of the fires in office properties. However, only 3 percent of the direct property damage resulted from cooking fires. Electrical distribution and lighting equipment was involved in 13 percent of the fires, resulting in 19 percent of the direct property damage. The 11 percent of fires that were intentionally set caused 18 percent of the direct property damage. Heating caused 12 percent of the fires and 9% percent of the property damage, while smoking materials caused 10 percent of the fires and 6 percent of the property damage.
Although 17 percent of the fires in office properties began in the kitchen or cooking area, these fires caused only 3 percent of the direct property damage. Only 13 percent of the fires began in an office area, but they resulted in 27 percent of the dollar loss. No other individual area of origin accounted for more than 4 percent of reported fires. Eighty-two percent of the fires were confined to the room of origin.
Children Playing with Fire
By John R. Hall, Jr.
In 2008, an estimated 53,500 child-playing fires were reported to U.S. municipal fire departments, with associated losses of 70 civilian deaths, 910 civilian injuries, and $279 million in direct damage. Seventy-seven percent of these fires occurred outdoors. An estimated 7,600 fire-play structure fires occurred in the home, resulting in 70 civilian deaths, 780 civilian injuries, and $202 million in direct property damage.
Eighty-three percent of set fires are intentional and do not involve playing. Seventy-seven percent of set fires specifically in home structures do not involve playing.
Sixty-four percent of child-playing home fires are started with lighters or matches. The lighter fires and losses increased from 1980 to 1993, then began declining sharply in 1994, which coincided with the introduction of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission child-resistant lighter standard.
Child-playing match fires have been declining since 1980 and declined faster than child-playing lighter fires after 1994. One reason may be a generally heightened awareness of the child-playing fire problem and growing success in public fire safety education programs, which provided more attention to child supervision and other steps to reduce the child-playing fire problem, and did so at the same time that the lighter standard was being introduced. It is also possible that there is significant miscoding of fire-play with lighters as fire-play with matches—or that there used to be. If there has been a shift from matches to lighters, a point on which we have no information, it could have played a role in the opposing trends seen before 1995.
The leading items first ignited by home fire-play were mattresses and bedding, which accounted for 24 percent of child-playing home structure fires. Other leading items first ignited were papers, in 9 percent of fires; trash or waste, in 8 percent of fires; and clothing, in 8 percent. Two out of five child-playing home structure fires began in the bedroom.
Fatalities in child-playing fires tend to be younger than the firesetters. The median age of fatalities in child-playing home structure fires was just over 5 years, while the median age of child-playing firesetters, where age was reported as a factor, was just over 6 years. Roughly two of every three victims of child-playing home structure fires were 5 or younger. Nonfatal injuries often involve parents or other caregivers, but fatal injuries rarely do.
Home Fires Involving Cooking Equipment
By Marty Ahrens
Cooking is, and has long been, the leading cause of home structure fires and civilian home fire injuries. During the five-year period of 2004–2008, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 154,700 home structure fires in which cooking equipment was involved in the ignition or in which the fire department used an incident type that identified a cooking fire that did not spread beyond the cooking vessel.
These fires caused an average of 460 civilian deaths, 4,850 civilian fire injuries, and $724 million in direct property damage. Overall, these fires accounted for 41 percent of reported home fires, 17 percent of home fire deaths, more than 37 percent of reported home fire injuries, and 11 percent of the direct property damage resulting from home fires.
Ranges or cook tops were the heat sources in 59 percent of reported home fires involving cooking equipment, 89 percent of associated civilian deaths, 77 percent of the reported cooking fire civilian injuries, and 71 percent of the associated direct property damages. Unattended equipment was a factor in 34 percent of reported home cooking fires. Abandoned or discarded material was a factor in 10 percent of these fires. An additional 10 percent were caused by an unclassified misuse of material, while 9 percent occurred when something that could catch fire was too close to the cooking equipment, and 8 percent occurred when cooking equipment was unintentionally turned on or not turned off.
Households with electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires than those with gas ranges.
Not surprisingly, 66 percent of home structure fires involving cooking equipment began when cooking materials or food ignited. Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1 percent of these fires, but clothing ignitions led to 15 percent of the home cooking equipment fire deaths.
Several studies, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 1999 study of range fires, found that frying dominated the cooking fire problem. Frying accounted for 63 percent of 218 range-top cooking-material ignitions in the CPSC study. Eighty-three percent of these food ignitions by frying occurred during the first 15 minutes of cooking.
The statistics on fires involving cooking equipment reported to local fire departments represent a tiny fraction of all home fires involving home cooking equipment. CPSC’s 2004–2005 survey of residential fires found that U.S. households handled an average of 4.7 million home fires involving cooking equipment per year without calling the fire department. Roughly one of every 23 occupied households had a cooking fire. The study also found that 102,000 injuries resulted from cooking equipment fires with no fire department presence. Total direct property damage from unreported home fires involving cooking equipment was estimated at $328 million, with an average loss of $70 dollars per fire.
Fifty-nine percent of civilians who were not fatally injured in reported home structure fires involving cooking equipment were hurt while trying to fight the fire, compared to 37 percent of injuries suffered in overall home structure fires. Almost three-quarters of non-fatal reported home cooking fire injuries were minor.
Children under 5 and adults 65 or older faced the highest risk of death from home fires involving cooking equipment. Young children were at much lower risk of a non-fatal fire injury from cooking equipment. However, children under 5 face a much higher risk of non-fire burn injuries from cooking equipment, tableware, and cookware. Children under 5 account for only 7 percent of the U.S. population, but they suffered an estimated 57 percent of the scald burns associated with tableware; 36 percent of the thermal non-fire burns associated with range or ovens; 36 percent of the scald burns associated with ranges or ovens; 34 percent of the thermal non-fire burns associated with grills or barbecues; 31 percent of the scald burns associated with microwave ovens; 11 percent of the scald burns from cookware; and 10 percent of the burns from contact with hot cookware.
By Marty Ahrens
The winter holiday season should be a joyous time of year. However, certain types of fires and injuries are much more common during this season.
In 2004–2008, for example, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 260 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees. These fires caused an average of 12 civilian deaths, 24 civilian injuries, and $16.4 million in direct property damage per year.
Although these fires are not common, they are likely to be unusually serious when they do occur. On average, one of every 21 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 137 total reported home structure fires.
Half of the home Christmas tree structure fires occurred in December and one-third occurred in January. Forty-one percent of them occurred on the 12 days from December 24 through January 4.
Electrical failures or malfunctions were involved in 33 percent of the home Christmas tree structure fires; one in five, or 19 percent, occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree. Decorative lights with line voltage were involved in 13 percent of these incidents, and 11 percent were started by candles.
Nineteen percent of home Christmas tree structure fires were intentionally set. More than half of these occurred in January and may have been related to disposal.
The risk of fire is higher with natural trees than artificial ones. Researchers found that dry natural trees burned easily, but trees that had been kept moist are unlikely to catch fire unintentionally.
Holiday lights and other decorative lighting with line voltage were involved in an estimated average of 150 home structure fires per year in this same period. These fires caused an average of eight civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $8.9 million in direct property damage per year. Forty-three percent occurred in December and 12 percent occurred in January. Eighteen percent of these fires began with Christmas trees. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in almost two-thirds of the fires involving holiday or decorative lights.