Report: NFPA's "Intentional Fires"
Issued: January 2012
An analysis on intentional fires reported to municipal fire departments during 2005-2009. Includes information on structure, vehicle, and outside intentional fires, when and where these fires occur, and arrest and clearance information.
During 2005-2009, an estimated 306,300 intentional fires were reported to U.S. fire departments each year, with associated annual losses of 440 civilian deaths, 1,360 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage. Three-quarters (75%) of these fires occurred outside, 18% occurred in structures and 8% in vehicles.
Despite being only 18% of all intentional fires, structure fires accounted for 88% of civilian deaths, 82% of civilian injuries, and 81% of direct property damage caused by intentional fires. Sixty percent of intentional structure fires occurred in residential properties (55% in homes), 6% occurred in storage facilities, 6% occurred in educational properties, and 4% occurred in mercantile or business properties.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of intentional structure fires occurred in structures that are occupied and operating, and these fires account for most of the associated losses. Thirteen percent occurred in vacant, unsecured properties, and 7% in vacant, secured properties.
The most common item first ignited in intentional structure fires was rubbish, trash or waste, but a disproportionate share of the property damage resulted from fires beginning with flammable or combustible liquids or gases, (possibly accelerants).
Intentionally set home structure fires were more likely to occur between 3:00 p.m. and midnight. The most common heat sources in intentional home fires were matches and lighters (each accounting for 26% of fires); the bedroom was the most common area of origin (13% of these fires). In educational properties, more than half (55%) of intentionally set structure fires began in the bathroom. In storage properties, the garage was the most common area of origin (22% of fires), and in mercantile or business properties the most common area of origin was the bathroom (8% of fires).
Outside or unclassified fires accounted for 75% of intentionally set fires. In this report, outside trash or rubbish fires are often listed separately from other outside and unclassified fires. This is because outside trash and rubbish fires have limited reporting requirements. Among the outside or unclassified fires that were not trash or rubbish fires, one-third (33%) began in a lawn, field or other open area. Matches were the heat source in one-third (34%) of these fires, and a lighter was the heat source in 18%. Light vegetation, including grass, was the item first ignited in half (49%) of the fires.
In intentionally set vehicle fires, the most common items first ignited were vehicle seats (31%) and flammable and combustible liquids and gases, piping or filter (28%). Matches were the most common heat source (28% of fires), lighters were the heat source in 14%, and an incendiary device in 13%.
See additional resources, including a free downloadable presentation on preventing arson.