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.

Sign up for the NFPA Network Newsletter
Susan McKelvey
Communications Manager

Related Articles