IN 2012, A FIRE DEPARTMENT IN THE UNITED STATES responded to a fire somewhere in the nation every 23 seconds. A fire occurred in a structure every 66 seconds, and a home fire occurred every 85 seconds. Every 156 seconds, a vehicle caught fire, and every 46 seconds there was a fire in an outside property.
Get the full "Fire Loss in the United States During 2012" report, fact sheet, and archived reports.
Each year, NFPA surveys a sample of public fire departments in the United States to make national projections of the annual fire problem. In 2012, the 2,795 fire departments that participated in our fire experience survey responded to 1,375,000 fires, which represents a slight decrease of 1 percent from the year before.
Of these, an estimated 480,500 were structure fires, a slight decrease of 0.8 percent, or virtually no change from 2011. Between 1977 and 2012, the number of structure fires peaked in 1977, with 1,098,000 such fires. The number then decreased steadily, particularly in the 1980s, to 688,000 by the end of 1989, for an overall drop of 37.3 percent from 1977. From 1989 to 1998, structure fires again dropped steadily, to 517,500 by the end of 1998, for an overall decrease of 24.7 percent. They stayed between 505,000 and 530,500 from 1999 to 2008, before decreasing to 480,500 in 2009, where the number stayed from 2010 to 2012.
FIRES BY THE NUMBERS
- 1,375,000 fires were responded to by public fire departments, a slight decrease of 1 percent from the year before.
- 480,500 fires occurred in structures, a slight decrease of 0.8 percent. 365,000 fires, or 76 percent of all structure fires, occurred in one- and two-family homes and apartments, a slight decrease of 1.3 percent.
- 172,500 highway vehicle fires occurred in 2012, a decrease of 8 percent from the year before. 692,000 fires occurred in outside properties, a slight increase of 0.9 percent.
Of these structure fires, 381,000 were residential fires, which accounted for 79 percent of all structure fires. This represents a slight decrease of 1.3 percent from the year before. Of the residential structure fires, 268,000 occurred in one- and two-family homes, accounting for 55.7 percent of all structure fires. Another 97,000 occurred in apartments, accounting for 20.2 percent of structure fires.
There were 99,500 nonresidential structure fires in 2012, a slight increase of 1 percent from the year before.
From 1977 to 2012, the number of outside fires peaked in 1977, with more than 1,658,000 outside fires. This number dropped steadily over the next six years, to 1,011,000 in 1983, for a considerable decrease of 39 percent from 1977. The number of outside fires changed little for the rest of the 1980s, except in 1988, when 1,214,000 occurred. Outside fires dropped to 910,500 in 1993 and stayed near the 1,000,000 level over the next three years. From 1997 to 2002, the number of outside fires stayed between 839,000 and 861,500 — except for 1999, when it increased to 931,500 — then rose in 2005 and 2006 before declining between 2007 and 2010, to 634,000 at the end of 2010. Over the next two years, the number of outside fires increased 9.1 percent, to 692,000 in 2012.
Focus on the Home
Five key strategies to reduce home fire deaths
More widespread public fire safety education is needed on preventing fires and avoiding serious injury or death if a fire does occur. Information on the common causes of fatal home fires should continue to be used to design fire safety education messages.
Install + maintain smoke alarms
Smoke alarms have proven effective in reducing the risk of death in home fires. The most effective arrangement is interconnected, multiple-station smoke alarms supplied by hardwired ac power with a battery backup. These should be located outside each sleeping area, on each level, and in each bedroom. Homeowners should routinely test smoke alarms according to manufacturers’ recommendations. NFPA recommends testing home smoke alarms at least monthly. Homeowners should also develop and practice escape plans.
Promote implementation of residential sprinklers
Sprinklers are proven lifesaving systems across many different kinds of properties, including homes. The risk of dying in a reported fire in your home decreases by about 80 percent when sprinklers are present, and sprinklers reduce the average property loss in home fires by 71 percent per fire. More information about home fire sprinklers is available at firesprinklerinitiative.org.
Develop more ways to make home products safer from fire
The regulations requiring more child-resistant lighters are a good example, as are requirements for cigarettes with reduced ignition strength, generally called “fire-safe” cigarettes. The wider use of upholstered furniture and mattresses that are more resistant to cigarette ignitions is an example of change that has already accomplished much and will continue to do more.
Address special fire safety needs
We need to acknowledge the special fire safety needs of high-risk groups, such as the young, older adults, the poor, and people with disabilities, and develop strategies that specifically target these groups.
Of the outside fires that occurred in 2012, an estimated 350,000 were brush, grass, and wildland fires, for an increase of 3.6 percent. There were also an estimated 83,000 fires outside of structures with value involved, or an increase of 5.1 percent from the year before.
In addition, an estimated 172,500 highway vehicle fires occurred in 2012, a decrease of 8 percent from 2011, and 30,000 fires occurred in other vehicles, for a decrease of 4.8 percent.
Civilian Fire Deaths
The 1,375,000 fires reported by fire departments in 2012 resulted in an estimated 2,855 civilian deaths, based on data reported to NFPA. This is a decrease of 5 percent from the year before and is the lowest number of civilian deaths since 1977–1978, when NFPA started using its current survey methodology. The nature of the decrease is better understood when results are examined by property type.
The largest number of civilian fire deaths in structure fires in 2012 occurred in residential fires, in which an estimated 2,405 civilians died, a decrease of 5.7 percent from the year before. Of these deaths, 380 occurred in apartment fires. Another 2,000 died in fires in one- and two-family homes, a decrease of 5 percent. In all, fires in one- and two-family homes, including manufactured homes and apartments, resulted in 2,380 civilian deaths, a decrease of 5.6 percent from 2011.
CIVILIAN FIRE DEATHS
- 2,855 civilians died in fires in 2012, a decrease of 5 percent.
- 2,380 civilian fire deaths, or 83 percent of all fire deaths, occurred in the home, a decrease of 5.6 percent.
- 300 civilians died in highway vehicle fires.
- One civilian died nationwide every 3 hours and 4 minutes, and a civilian died in a home fire every 3 hours and 41 minutes.
CIVILIAN FIRE INJURIES
- 12,875 of all civilian injuries occurred in home fires.
- 800 civilians were injured in highway vehicle fires.
- One civilian fire injury occurred nationwide every 32 minutes, and a civilian fire injury occurred in home fires every 41 minutes.
Looking at trends in civilian deaths since 1977–1978, several observations are worth noting. Home fire deaths were at their peak in 1978, when 6,015 people died in home fires. The number then decreased from 1979 to 1982, to 4,820 by the end of 1982, a substantial drop of 20 percent. From 1982 to 1988, the number of home fire deaths remained level, between 4,650 and 4,950, except in 1984, when 4,075 fire deaths occurred. From 1989 to 1996, the number of home fire deaths continued to decline, staying between 3,420 and 4,340. From 1997 onward, the number of home fire deaths generally continued to decline, staying between 2,380 and 3,200 since 2001.
Overall, the number of home fire deaths dropped from 5,865 in 1977 to 2,380 in 2012, a decrease of 59 percent. The number of home fires also declined steadily during the same period, for an overall decrease of 50 percent. When we look at the death rate per 1,000 home fires, we see no steady decline, but rather considerable fluctuation up and down. In fact, the death rate per 1,000 home fires was 8.1 in 1977 and 6.5 in 2012, a decrease of 20 percent. These results suggest that even though the number of home fires and home fire deaths declined similarly during the period, the death rate did not. If there is a home fire, the fire death rate risk has not changed much between 1977 and 2012.
Other civilian deaths by property type include 65 civilians who died in nonresidential structure fires in 2012, a decrease of 27.8 percent from the year before. An estimated 300 civilians also died in highway vehicle fires last year, an increase of 11.1 percent. From 1977 to 2012, the number of highway vehicle deaths, mostly in cars, decreased 60 percent. In addition, of the 2,470 civilians who died in structure fires last year, 180, or 7.3 percent, died in fires that were intentionally set.
With home fire deaths still accounting for 2,380 fire deaths, or 83 percent of all civilian fire deaths, fire safety initiatives targeted at the home are key to any reductions in the overall fire death toll.
Civilian Fire Injuries
Results based on data reported to NFPA indicate that, in addition to 2,855 civilian fire deaths, an estimated 16,500 civilians were injured in fires in 2012. This represents a decrease of 5.7 percent, the lowest it has been since 2006.
Estimates of civilian fire injuries are on the low side because many civilian injuries are not reported to the fire service. For example, many injuries occur at small fires that fire departments do not respond to. In other instances, when departments do respond, firefighters may be unaware of injured persons, and those people are not transported to medical facilities.
NFPA estimates that 13,175 civilians were injured in residential properties last year, a significant decrease of 8.3 percent. Of these injuries, 8,825 ocurred in one- and two-family homes, and 4,050 occurred in apartments. In addition, 1,525 civilians were injured in nonresidential structures in 2012, an increase of 19.6 percent.
Between 1977 and 2012, the number of civilian injuries ranged from a high of 31,275 in 1983 to a low of 16,400 in 2006, for an overall decrease of 48 percent. There was no consistent pattern up or down until 1995, when injuries fell by roughly 5,000 in 1994–1995, to 25,775. From 1996 to 2002, injuries declined 28 percent to 18,425 by the end of 2002. Since 2002, civilian injuries have ranged from 16,400 to 18,425 annually.
NFPA estimates that the 1,375,000 fires to which the fire service responded caused $12.4 billion in property damage in 2012. This is an increase of 6.6 percent from the year before. Of that, fires in structures resulted in $9.8 billion in property damage, an increase of 0.9 percent from 2011. The average loss per structure fire in 2012 was $20,345, an increase of 1.7 percent.
From 1977 to 2012, excluding the events of 9/11, the average loss per structure fire was $3,757 in 1977 and $20,345 in 2012, for an overall increase of 441 percent. When property loss is adjusted for inflation, however, the increase in the average structure fire loss between 1977 and 2012 is 43 percent.
Of the property loss in structures, $7.2 billion occurred in residential properties in 2012, an increase of 2.1 percent from the year before. An estimated loss of $5.8 billion occurred in one- and two-family homes, an increase of 1.3 percent over the previous year, while an estimated loss of $1.2 billion occurred in apartments.
Description of NFPA Survey + Acknowledgements
Each year, NFPA surveys a sample of fire departments in the United States to make national projections of the annual fire problem. For 2012, a total of 2,795 fire departments responded to the fire experience survey. The sample is stratified by the size of the community the fire department protects. All U.S. fire departments that protect communities of 50,000 or more are included in the sample, because they constitute a small number of departments that protect a large share of the total population. For departments that protect populations under 50,000, the sample selected was stratified by the size of the community protected. The national projections are made by weighting sample results according to the proportion of the total U.S. population accounted for by communities of each size.
For each estimate, a sampling or standard error was also calculated. The sampling error is a measure of the error caused by the fact that the estimates are based on a sampling of fire losses, rather than a complete census of the fire problem. Due to the fact that the survey is based on a random sample, we can be very confident that the actual value falls within the percentage noted in parentheses for each overall fire loss estimate: 2 percent for the number of fires, 11.3 percent for the number of civilian deaths, 5.5 percent for the number of civilian injuries, and 3 percent for property loss.
The results presented in this report are based on fires attended by public fire departments. We made no adjustments for unreported fires, such as those extinguished by the occupant, and their resulting losses. Nor did we make adjustments for fires attended solely by private fire brigades, such as those at industrial or military installations, or for fires extinguished by fixed suppression systems to which a fire department did not respond.
NFPA thanks the many fire departments that responded to the 2012 National Fire Experience Survey for their continuing efforts to provide us with the data so necessary to make national projections. The survey project manager and author of the report also thank the many staff members of NFPA who worked on this year’s survey, including Frank Deely, John Baldi, and John Conlon for editing the survey forms and making follow-up calls to fire departments, and Norma Candeloro for processing the survey forms and typing this report.
Other property damage figures worth noting for 2012 include losses of $281 million in public assembly properties, a significant decrease of 37 percent, and $64 million in educational properties, a significant increase of 35 percent. In the category of other vehicles, property damage in 2012 came to $744 million, a significant increase of 122.8 percent that reflects the $400 million in damage to the submarine USS Miami, which burned while it was in dry dock for repairs. Property loss caused by fires outside of structures with value involved came to $714 million, a significant increase of 34.3 percent. This includes the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado, which resulted in an estimated property loss of $453.7 million, and the High Park Fire, also in Colorado, that resulted in an estimated property loss of $113.7 million.
It is important to keep in mind that property loss totals can change dramatically from year to year due to the impact of occasional large-loss fires. NFPA analyzes these large-loss fires in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal every year.
- $12.4 billion in property damage occurred as a result of fire in 2012, an increase of 5.9 percent from the year before.
- $9.8 billion of property damage occurred in structure fires.
- $7 billion of property loss occurred in home fires.
- $1.1 billion of property loss occurred in highway vehicle fires.
INTENTIONALLY SET FIRES
- 26,000 fires were intentionally set, a decrease of 1.9 percent. This does not include fires with unknown cause.
- 180 civilians died in intentionally set structure fires, a decrease of 5.3 percent.
- $581 million in property damage was caused by intentionally set fires, a decrease of 3.3 percent.
- 12,500 intentionally set vehicle fires occurred, a decrease of 3.9 percent from 2011. These caused $480 million in property damage, a significant increase of 445 percent from 2011. This increase is mostly due to the intentionally set fire aboard the submarine USS Miami, which resulted in an estimated $400 million in property damage.
Intentionally Set Fires
Based on data reported by fire departments in the survey, NFPA estimates there were 26,000 intentionally set structure fires in 2012, a decrease of 1.9 percent from the year before. These fires resulted in an estimated 180 civilian deaths, a decrease of 5.3 percent, and $581 million in property loss, a decrease of 3.3 percent. These estimates do not include any allocation of fires with cause unknown or unreported.
There were also an estimated 12,500 intentionally set vehicle fires in 2012, a decrease of 3.9 percent from the year before. These fires resulted in $480 million in property loss, a significant increase of 445.4 percent from 2011. Again, this increase was mostly due to the intentionally set fire aboard the USS Miami, which resulted in an estimated $400 million in property damage.
Michael J. Karter, Jr., is a statistician with NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division.