Structure Fires in U.S. Warehouses

Report: NFPA's "Structure Fires in U.S. Warehouses"
Author: Richard Campbell
Issued: June 2013

Overview of fire problem in warehouse structure fires, excluding cold storage properties, including trends causal information, automatic detection and suppression equipment performance.

Executive Summary

Warehouses are properties that are used for the storage of commodities. They vary on the basis of size, types of materials stored, design, storage configurations, construction and other factors. Warehouse fires are associated with higher average property losses per fire than most other occupancies, but they also have lower than average rates of injury per 1,000 fires.

During the five-year period of 2007-2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 1,270 fires in warehouse properties per year. These fires caused an annual average of $188 million in direct property damage, 23 civilian injuries, and four civilian fatalities. 

The statistics about fires and associated losses in this analysis are national estimates of fires reported to U.S. municipal fire departments. Fires reported only to federal or state agencies or industrial fire brigades are not captured here. These national estimates are projections based on the detailed information collected by the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS 5.0) and the annual fire department experience survey conducted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Fires in warehouse properties have declined substantially over the past 30 years, from 4,700 in 1980 to 1,200 in 2011. However, the value of direct property damage caused by warehouse fires has not shown a similar decrease when adjustments are made for inflation, with property damage totals fluctuating from one year to the next.  Data from the 2007-2011 period indicate an average of over 100 warehouse fires and nearly $16 million in direct property damages from these fires a month. 

Understanding how warehouse fires occur and the critical factors associated with them is essential for informing appropriate prevention efforts. Warehouse fires were most likely to take place on a weekday and during normal business hours. Nearly one-fifth of warehouse fires were intentionally set, while 13% were caused by electrical distribution and lighting equipment. Some type of operating equipment was the heat source in approximately two of every five fires.

Warehouses pose substantial challenges for fire protection due to their building layouts, storage configurations and technologies, ceiling heights, and types of commodities stored, with the specific challenges influenced by the characteristics of a given warehouse property.  Properly designed sprinkler systems are an essential element of general warehouse fire protection. Other protective measures generally applicable to warehouse properties include automatic alarms to the fire department and building security systems. Pre-fire inspections and planning are recommended in order to identify appropriate protection measures for specific warehouse environments. Guidance for fire protection systems is available from NFPA 13,
Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems
and NFPA 230, Standard for the Fire Protection of Storage.

Warehouse structure fires

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