Catastrophic multiple-death fires

Report: NFPA's "Catastrophic Multiple-Death Fires in 2012"
Author: Stephen G. Badger
Issued: September 2013

Incident descriptions and summary statistics on fires causing at least 5 deaths.

Introduction

In 2012, firefighters in the United States responded to an estimated 1.375 million fires, 381,000 of which occurred in residential structures, 99,500 in nonresidential structures, and 894,500 in fires outside of structures. These fires accounted for an estimated 2,855 deaths, 2,405 of which occurred in residential structures, 65 in nonresidential structures, and 385 in fires outside of structures.

Seventeen of these fires were categorized as catastrophic multiple-death fires, defined here as fires or explosions in homes or apartments that result in five or more fire-related deaths, or as fires or explosions in all other structures and outside of structures, such as wildfires and vehicle fires, that claim three or more lives.

These 17 fires killed 82 people, 16 of whom were children under age six. This accounted for 0.001 percent of the total estimated fires and 2.9 percent of the total fire deaths for 2012. By comparison, there were 24 catastrophic multiple-death fires in 2011, resulting in the deaths of 117 people, 16 of whom were children under age six.

The number of catastrophic multiple-death fires in 2012 was the lowest reported since 1987, when NFPA began using the current definition. To put this number in perspective, there were 62 catastrophic multiple-death fires in 1987, resulting in 332 deaths. Over the past 10 years, the annual average number of catastrophic multiple-death fires was 27, resulting in 160 deaths per year, with 25 of those deaths on average being children under age six.

Of the 17 catastrophic multiple-death fires that occurred in 2012, eight occurred in residential structures and resulted in 44 deaths; two took place in nonresidential structures and resulted in seven deaths; and seven were non-structure fires that resulted in 31 deaths. All of the 16 children under age six who died in multiple-death fires last year died in residential properties.

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