Characteristics of home fire victims

Report: NFPA's "Characteristics of Home Fire Victims"
Author: Jennifer D. Flynn
Issued: March 2010

This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the fatal and non-fatal victims of home fires, with information about victim age, sex, race, and region. Relative risk is also addressed, and additional information is provided about the relative importance of socioeconomic factors in predicting differences in the risk of fire and fire death. This report also discusses leading fire causes and risk factors such as activity when injured, victim location, and factors contributing to injury.

Executive Summary

Patterns by Age, Sex, Race, Ethnicity, and Region
The very young and the very old are at highest risk of death from home fires.  Based on 2003-2007 experience data, children under age 5 are almost one and a half times as likely to die in a home fire as the general public.  Older adults age 75 or over are nearly three times as likely to die as the general public.  Risk increases with age.  Adults 85 and over have more than three and a half times the risk of fire death as the general public. 

Adults age 20 to 49 have the highest risk of reported non-fatal injury from home fires.  Based on 2003-2007 experience, adults between 20-34 years old have a risk of injury almost 30% above the all-ages average.  Adults between 35-49 years old have a risk of injury that is 17% higher than the all-ages average.  Children in any age group have below-average or average risk of home fire injury, however, risk of injury increases from age 10 and up.

From 1980 to 2007, the share of home fire deaths accounted for by children under age 5 declined from 18% to 9%, while the share of older adults age 65 and over increased from 19% to 29%. The numbers of deaths and injuries for all age groups also declined from 1980, except for injuries in the age 35-49 and 50-64 groups, which increased slightly.  The relative risk index for home fire deaths for children under age 5 has declined sharply since 1994, when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) instituted requirements for child resistance in lighters.

In the U.S., males have a 29% higher risk of home fire death than females and a 16% higher risk of non-fatal home fire injury. 

Seventy-one percent of the people who died of unintentional fire or flame injuries were white, while 23% were black.  Black individuals faced a risk of fire death almost twice that of an individual of another race. 

The Midwest region shows the highest risk for individuals dying in a home structure fire, followed by the South.  Rural communities have the highest fire death rates in the nation. 

Leading Causes of Fire
Smoking materials have historically caused the largest share of civilian deaths in home structure fires even though they account for 5% of the home structure fires.  In home structure fires that result from smoking materials, adults over the age of 50 have the highest risk of dying. 

Cooking equipment continues to be the leading cause of civilian fire injuries.  People age 20-34 have a 50% higher chance of being injured in a cooking fire than does the general public of all ages.

Children under the age of 5 are almost eight times as likely to die in a fire caused by playing with heat source than are people of all ages. 

Risk Factors
The majority of U.S. home fatal and non-fatal fire victims were in the area of fire origin when the fire began. 

As age of victim increases, physical disabilities are cited much more frequently than other factors that contribute to injury.

More than one of every three (36%) fatal fire victims never wakes up before being injured.  More than two of every five (43%) people injured (but not killed) in home fires were trying to fight the fire or rescue someone when they were injured. 

Males are more likely than females to be attacking the risk (by fighting the fire or trying to rescue others from it) when injured, while females are more likely than males to be escaping the fire when injured.

Fatal Effects of Fire
Fire deaths due to toxic gases and/or oxygen deprivation, collectively called smoke inhalation, outnumber fire deaths due to burns.  As of 1999 and later years, the smoke inhalation to burns ratio was 2-to-1, according to death certificate analysis.

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
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