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Poverty & Fire Risk

Poor and marginalized people face a disproportionate share of fire risk in the US.

In 2021 NFPA Research published the report on Poverty and Fire Risk which showed that:

  • The connection between poverty and elevated fire risk has been documented in multiple studies, some going back as far as the late 1970s and early 1980s.
  • Factors associated with poverty and elevated fire risk include family stability, crowdedness, the percentage of owner-occupied homes, older housing, the proportion of vacant houses, and the ability to speak English.
  • Since 1967, the share of the US population living at or near the poverty level has fluctuated between 15 and 20 percent of the population.
  • Based on the rise in total US population, the number of people living in poverty in the US increased 34.6 percent between 2000 and 2017, with the number of poor people in suburbs and exurbs doubling.


The fire problem in this country will not be solved as long as people who are homeless or living in vulnerable building/shelter situations suffer disproportionally from fire. It is considered an “invisible” problem, despite impacting numerous communities and threatening the lives and livelihoods of affected populations. To better understand the scope of the problem and untangling deeper and more complex interactions between human vulnerability, fire risk, and the building/shelter in which people live NFPA Research teamed up with Kindling, a non-profit focused on fire safety inequalities. The result is the report on the Invisible US Fire Problem.


The report shows that:

  • The understanding of fire risk faced by vulnerably sheltered persons is a product of the probability of a credible fire event occurring and the measure of the possibility of death or injury to an occupant resulting from that event. The approach allows for an in-depth evaluation of attributes of the building or shelter that can lead to potentially dangerous fires, as well as the attributes of the population that may make it more vulnerable to fire.
  • There are significant gaps in research, policy, and action pertaining to fire safety of insecurely and vulnerably sheltered populations in the US. These emphasize that fire disproportionately affects populations in under-regulated, unregulated, and non-sheltered living conditions.
  • To tackle holistically and urgently the identified gaps and improve fire safety across insecurely and vulnerably shelter contexts, stakeholders need to collaboratively engage with this ‘invisible’ fire problem through research, policy and action that addresses the full spectrum of economic, social, and technical issues.
  • Extensive data collection and analysis is a priority to better understand the problem, enabling substantial progress.
  • Funding opportunities should recognize the ‘invisible’ fire problem as an important component of broad disciplines of fire safety, urban planning, social services, and public health.