Open navigation

Contact us
If you have any questions, e-mail Nancy Schwartz or call +1 617 984-7450.

Report: NFPA's "Home Fires That Began With Mattresses and Bedding"
Author: Ben Evarts
Issued: October 2011  

This analysis of the circumstances of home structure fires that began with mattresses and bedding includes trend data, causal factors, and a comparison of mattress and bedding fires started by smoking materials vs. fires started by candles, matches or lighters. Previously published incident descriptions are included in an Appendix.

Executive Summary

NFPA estimates that during 2005-2009, a mattress or bedding was the item first ignited in an average of 10,260 reported home structure fires per year. These fires caused an estimated annual average of 371 civilian deaths, 1,340 civilian injuries, and $382 million in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 3% of all home structure fires, 14% of deaths, 10% of injuries and 5% of property damage.

In 2009, there were 85% fewer fires that started with mattress or bedding than there were in 1980, and deaths associated with these fires were 61% lower. Some of the decrease in reported fires may be due to changes in reporting in the late 1990s. 

Most (78%) of these fires begin in the bedroom. Fires beginning in the bedroom were associated with 84% of civilian deaths, 83% of injuries, and 80% of property damage. The 5% of fires that started in a living room, family room, or den caused 12% of the associated deaths.

Smoking materials are the leading cause of mattress and bedding fires and deaths (20% of fires and 51% of deaths).  Playing with heat source caused 18% of fires and 8% of deaths. Candles started 12% of fires, and heating equipment caused 8% of fires, but 21% of deaths. One-third (35%) of fires started with lighters, candles, or matches.

A heat source being too close to the mattress or bedding was a factor in 27% of mattress or bedding fires, and 34% of the civilian deaths. Abandoned or discarded materials, (often used to describe discarded cigarettes) contributed to 16% of fires and 38% of civilian deaths.

Existing and proposed flammability requirements for mattresses and bedding focus on fires started by either smoking materials or small open flames, so those two categories are singled out for additional analysis. Mattress and bedding fires started by smoking materials fell 92% from 1980 to 2009, deaths fell 67%. Drops in fires and deaths caused by lighters, candles or matches were not as pronounced.

Fires started by lighters candles and matches were less common in the early morning hours (midnight to 9:00 a.m.), while fires caused by smoking materials were more common during this timeframe than all fires that started with mattress or bedding.

Age was more likely to be a factor in deaths and injuries caused by mattress and bedding fires where a lighter, candle or match was the heat source, while sleeping was more likely to be a factor in smoking material fire deaths and injuries. Unsurprisingly, younger people were more likely to be the victims of fires with a lighter, candle or match as the heat source. People aged 55 and older were more likely to be victims of fires started by smoking materials.

The NFPA provides safety tips to follow in order to lessen the risk of fires that start with mattress or bedding, some of these are:

  • Never smoke in bed, as you can easily fall asleep with a burning cigarette, igniting the mattress or bedding.
  • Teach your children at the earliest possible age that matches and lighters are tools for adults only, not toys. Store matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Turn off portable heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep.