AUTHOR: Susan McKelvey

a cat sipping milk

Do cats cause home fires and, if so, how often?

When I saw a news story in the Washington Post the other day titled, “Your Cat Could Burn Your House Down, Korean Officials Warn after 107 Fires Sparked by Felines,” I was curious to learn more. What were these crazy cats doing? As it turns out, cats have reportedly started an estimated 100-plus fires in Seoul, South Korea over the past few years, many of which started with furry paws turning on electric stoves. In more than half the cases, the owners were not home when the fire started. While the article included some solid tips for preventing cats and other pets from starting home fires  – such as either removing cooktop knobs or putting guards on them, clearing the cooking area of things that can burn (dishtowels, oven mitts, etc.), and working to make sure pets don’t have access to cooktops and other cooking equipment altogether – a couple of pieces of information were a bit misleading. First, the story incorrectly referenced an NFPA statistic about the number of U.S. home fires started by pets each year. The data used was from a report detailing the number of fires in livestock facilities, not homes. But it does beg the question: how often do our furry friends cause home fires? The answer is not all that often: an estimated average of 790 homes fires are started by animals each year. However, this statistic includes all types of animals, not just domesticated ones. So, for example, a chipmunk or squirrel chewing through electrical wiring is included in that number. In short, cats and other animals represent a very small part of the overall home fire problem, especially when you consider that there are more than 130 million pets living in U.S. homes. Still, it’s worthwhile to take precautions to minimize the likelihood of animals coming in contact with any type of equipment that can generate heat or flames – inside your home and out. The Washington Post article also noted that pets can be heroes in fires, referencing an incident in which a cat alerted a family to fire while they were sleeping, enabling them to escape safely. While these anecdotal stories are pretty amazing, it’s misleading at best, and downright dangerous, to expect that a pet will alert people to a home fire. As always, the best, most reliable form of detection is working smoke alarms and having an escape plan that the entire household has practiced together. For more information on pet fire safety, download and/or share our “Pet Fire Safety” tip sheet.
Christmas tree removal

Nearly one-third of Christmas tree fires occur in January

Nearly one-third (30 percent) of U.S. home fires involving Christmas trees occur in January. With this post-holiday fire hazard in mind, NFPA strongly encourages people to remove Christmas trees from their homes as soon as possible if they haven’t done so already. For many people who enjoy the look and feel of Christmas trees in their homes, this can be a tough message to follow. However, it’s important to impress upon the public that Christmas trees are large combustible items that have the potential to result in serious fires. The longer they remain in homes, the longer they present a risk. According to the latest NFPA winter holiday fire data, 160 home structure fires began with Christmas trees, resulting in two civilian deaths, 12 civilian injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage, on average each year between 2015 and 2019. Fresh Christmas trees, which continue to dry out and become more flammable over time, are involved in a much larger share of reported Christmas tree fires than artificial trees. Overall, fires that begin with Christmas trees represent a very small but notable part of the U.S. fire problem, considering that they are generally in use for a short time each year. To safely dispose of a Christmas tree, NFPA recommends using the local community’s recycling program, if possible; trees should not be put in the garage or left outside. NFPA also offers these tips for safely removing lighting and decorations to ensure that they remain in good condition: Use the gripping area on the plug when unplugging electrical decorations. Never pull the cord to unplug any device from an electrical outlet, as this can harm the wire and insulation of the cord, increasing the risk for shock or electrical fire. As you pack up light strings, inspect each line for damage, throwing out any sets that have loose connections, broken sockets or cracked or bare wires. Wrap each set of lights and put them in individual plastic bags or wrap them around a piece of cardboard. Store electrical decorations in a dry place away from children and pets where they will not be damaged by water or dampness.
firefighter walking through smoke

Fifth Needs Assessment report shows progress and continued gaps in US fire departments’ needs and resources

Published every five years since 2001, the US Needs Assessment report reflects the results of a survey sent to most US fire departments. The survey includes a broad range of questions that work to identify where US fire departments are experiencing gaps in equipment, staffing, and training, among other needs and resources. The Fifth US Needs Assessment report, which was released this week, shows that while some fire department needs have declined, some unmet needs have remained constant, and many areas have increased need. This includes aging facilities and apparatus, a lack of behavioral health and safety programs, and challenges in providing training and certification for structural firefighting and other community needs. The report underscores that the roles and responsibilities of fire departments continue to expand with no sign of stopping. From wildland urban interface (WUI) fires and active shooter incidents to hazardous materials response and traffic control duties, fire departments are being asked to do more and more, but in many cases, without the resources to support those expectations. Following are some of the key findings from the November 2021 report: The COVID-19 pandemic made personal protective equipment (PPE) a part of the global lexicon, but it also uncovered challenges: lack of availability, price scalping, and counterfeit PPE. These issues have put the health of firefighters at risk as communities struggle through a supply chain under immense pressure. Nearly half (47 percent) of all departments still had unmet needs for medical PPE at the time they completed the survey (between September 2020 and February 2021). Staffing remains a constant need for all fire departments, regardless of career, combination, or volunteer status. Since 2015, most fire departments have seen flat firefighter staffing levels. Maintaining fire department infrastructure has proven a daunting task for many departments and is compounded by the need for modern facilities that meet today’s fire service missions. Examples of infrastructure challenges include design considerations that minimize exposures for firefighters, private or separate facilities for men and women, and backup power systems. Protecting firefighters’ own health and safety remains a pressing challenge, with the majority of fire departments (72 percent) lacking programs to maintain basic firefighter fitness and health. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all fire departments do not have behavioral health programs. Of those that do, 90 percent offer post-traumatic stress support; and just one third (34 percent) have relationships with behavioral specialists. Findings from report are critically important for NFPA, other fire service organizations and decision-makers collectively working to better understand where issues exist among fire departments serving all sizes, populations, and demographics, and to make decisions based on those realities. But they can also serve as a critical reminder to the public about all firefighters do to keep their communities safe, the risks they take in the process, and the support they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. Previous Needs Assessment reports included additional state-level reporting; NFPA will be working in the coming months to produce these types of reports for selected states. The latest US Needs Assessment report, along with previous years’ reports, can be accessed online at www.nfpa.org/needsassessment.
burning candle

Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are among the leading days of the year for U.S. home fires

Christmas trees, holiday decorations, cooking and baking all contribute to an annual increase in U.S. home fires during the winter months. In fact, Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are among the leading days of the year for home fires (topped only by Thanksgiving Day). The NFPA Winter Holidays page offers a wide variety of tips and resources to reduce the risk of fires, while the latest NFPA statistics underscore the increased risk of fire during the holiday season: Christmas trees An estimated average of 160 home fires that began when Christmas trees caught fire caused an average of two civilian deaths, 12 civilian injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage per year between 2015 and 2019. Some type of electrical distribution or lighting equipment, including decorative lights, was involved in almost half of these fires. Nearly one in five Christmas tree fires were started by decorative lights. Eight percent of Christmas tree fires were started by candles. In nearly one-fifth of Christmas tree fires, the tree was too close to a heat source, such as candle or heating or lighting equipment. Decorations An estimated average of 790 home fires that began when decorations (other than Christmas trees) caught fire caused an average of one civilian death, 26 civilian injuries and $13 million in direct property damage per year between 2015 and 2019. One in five home decoration fires occurred in December. Year-round, 35 percent of home decoration fires began with candles; in December, the number jumped to 45 percent. In more than two of every five fires (44 percent) involving decorations, the decoration was too close to a heat source such as a candle, cooking or heating equipment. Candles An estimated average of 7,400 home fires (2 percent) started by candles caused an average of 90 civilian deaths (three percent), 670 civilian injuries (6 percent), and $291 million (4 percent) in direct property damage per year between 2015 and 2019. Candle fires peak in December and January with 11 percent of candle fires in each of these months. In three of every five candle fires, the candle was too close to something that could catch fire. Christmas is the peak day for candle fires with roughly 2.5 times the daily average; Christmas Eve ranked second.      Falling asleep was a factor in 10 percent of the home candle fires and 12 percent of the associated deaths. Cooking Cooking is the leading cause of reported home fires (49 percent) and home fire injuries and the second-leading cause of home fire deaths. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires. Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. Fortunately, a little added awareness and some basic safety precautions can greatly help reduce the risk of fire. Make sure to take full advantage of our resources to help better educate and protect your communities this holiday season. They’re free, easy to download, reprint, and/or share online.
A full shopping mall

Situational awareness and responsiveness are critical to safety in public spaces

Because home is the place people are at greatest risk to fire, much of our collective efforts and focus understandably focus on fire prevention and safety at home. However, the deadly crowd surge that occurred at the Astroworld festival in Houston, TX last month was a grave reminder of potential safety risks in public spaces – and the importance of better educating people about how they can protect themselves when they’re out and about. Situational awareness is a critical element of personal safety no matter where you go. Whether you’re shopping at the mall, dining at a restaurant, attending a concert, or going to the movies, making sure the building features the proper safety provisions and measures, along with knowing how to get out of it quickly and safely in the event of an emergency, can make a life-saving difference. In addition, sounding alarms must be taken seriously and responded to immediately. Unfortunately, when alarms sound in public spaces, people often assume that it’s a false alarm, in part because they may not initially see visible signs of dangers. In reality, by the time smoke, fire or other threats are more clear, particularly in larger buildings like a mall or hotel, it may well be too late to escape safely. Similarly, tragic fire incidents have repeatedly shown that people over-estimate their safety in public spaces and are slow to respond. In the instance of the Station nightclub fire, people first assumed the fire was part of the show; it took a few minutes for many to realize the gravity of the situation, which contributed to the fire’s staggering death toll. While the pandemic continues to impact all of us, a lot of people will be out and about shopping and attending holiday events and activities in public spaces.Our Safety in Places of Public Assembly offers a wealth of tips and recommendations to help people stay safe as they venture out into the world this holiday season and beyond – make sure to share this resource with your communities!
Fresh Christmas trees

Christmas trees may be arriving in homes earlier this year, presenting potential fire hazards

With people continuing to spend more time at home due to the pandemic, there has been talk in the news about Christmas trees being purchased earlier this year, even resulting in a possible tree shortage as the holiday nears. This means that Christmas trees - large combustible items that present potential fire hazards – may be in homes for a longer period of time than usual. Fresh Christmas trees, in particular, continue to dry out over time, making them more flammable as the days go by.  The latest NFPA statistics show that 160 home fires occurred on average each year between 2015 and 2019, resulting in two civilian deaths, 12 civilian injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage. With these facts and circumstances in mind, make sure to begin promoting Christmas tree fire safety as soon as possible. Our Christmas tree safety tip sheet offers tips and recommendations for safely enjoying Christmas trees this season. Following are some of the key reminders: For a fresh tree, cut 2” from the base of the trunk before placing it in the stand. Add water to the tree stand daily to keep them well hydrated. Trees should be placed at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights. Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, such as a door or window. Ensure that decorative lights are in good working order and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. For additional information and resources on how to safely deck the halls this holiday season that can be shared online, through social media and/or as print-outs, visit our winter holidays page.
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