The Coates House Fire, January 21, 1978

Image by studestevo via Flickr

According to the NFPA (, there are between 350,000 and 400,000 house fires in the U.S. every year and this results in almost $8 billion in annual damages.  Those are some scary statistics especially for those of us with families to protect.  One of the best things we can do is educated ourselves and our families on what the common causes of fires are and then look for ways to reduce our exposure to the greatest extent possible.  There are some causes of fires beyond our control (arson, etc.).  We did our best to include the most controllable/manageable and yet common reasons of fires in the following list:

Cooking – Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries According to the National Fire Protection Association 40 percent of all house fires are caused by cooking related incidents. 1 in 8 households will have a cooking fire each year. The leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking. To take the following precautions to prevent cooking fires:

  • Watch what you heat
  • Watch what you heat
  • Simmering, basting, roasting, or broiling – Stay in the home so that it is possible to periodically check the food
  • Stay alert  – Avoid cooking when sleepy or drowsy
  • Keep things that catch fire away from heat
  • Know what to do if you have a cooking fire.
  • Keep kids away from cooking area
  • Prevent scalds and burns – Place objects so they cannot be pulled or knocked over
  • Install and use cooking appliances safely
  • Have working smoke alarms  

 Kids playing with fire – Another very common cause of fires that we all hear of fairly frequently is kids playing with matches or a lighter and not fully comprehending the risks they are taking.  According to NFPA in 2004-2008, the annual average of fires involving fire-play reported to U.S. municipal fire departments was as follows:

  • Total Fires
  • 57,700 fires
  • 113 civilian deaths
  • 916 civilian injuries
  • $286 million direct lost
  • Home Structure Fires
  • 7,900 fires
  • 104 civilian deaths
  • 775 civilian injuries
  • $197 million direct loss

Smoking – Smoking materials (i.e., cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.) are the leading cause of fire deaths in the United States. In 2008, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 114,800 smoking-material fires in the U.S., down from 140,700 in 2007. These fires resulted in an estimated 680 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries and $737 million in direct property damage.

Heating – In 2008, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 66,100 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 480 civilian deaths, 1,660 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 17% of all reported home fires.

Facts & FiguresBased on 2004-2008 annual averages:

  • Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for one-third (32%) of home heating fires and four out of five (82%) of home heating fire deaths. 
  • The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (25%) was failure to clean, principally creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.
  • Placing things that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires and accounted for more than half (52%) of home heating fire deaths.
  • Half (49%) of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February

Source: NFPA’s “Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment” report by John R. Hall, Jr., September 2010

Electrical – Even what homeowners might think of as a “minor” problem can lead to a devastating fire. In fact, electricity is a leading cause of home fires in the U.S. Each year fires that start in electrical systems or lighting equipment. It can damage more than 24, 000 homes, kill 320 people and injure 830 or more. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 50 people die every year from accidental electrocutions involving residential wiring, panel boards, circuit breakers, and outlets. Another 40 electrocutions each year involve household appliances that are connected to the wiring of homes.

Candles – During 2003-2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 15,260 home structure fires started by candles per year. These fires caused an annual average of 166 civilian deaths, 1,289 civilian fire injuries, and $450 million in direct property damage. Candles caused 4% of the reported home fires, 6% of home fire deaths, 10% of home fire injuries, and 7% of direct property damage during this period. Homes include dwellings, duplexes, manufactured housing and apartments.

Facts and figures – During the five-year period of 2003-2007:

  • More than one-third (36%) of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 44% of the associated deaths and half (49%) of the associated injuries.
  •  On average, 42 home candle fires were reported per day. 
  • Falling asleep was a factor in 12% percent of the home candle fires and 36% of the associated deaths.
  • More than half (55%) of home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was left or came too close to the candle.
  • December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In December, 13% of home candle fires began with decorations compared to 4% the rest of the year.

Source: NFPA’s “Home Candle Fires ” report by Marty Ahrens, June 2010.

Dryers – There have been reports of dryer sheets that could lead to fires in the laundry area but it is far more common for improper dryer vents and venting to be the cause of a dryer related fire.  It’s also incredibly important to stay on top of clearing lint away from the dryer (under it, on top of it, behind it, etc.).  Treat this has highly flammable material and just keep your dryer well maintained.  Here is another great article on this subject:

Flammables in the House – there are a lot of products left around the home that are highly flammable (especially if the garage is attached to the home).  Be careful of where you place any flammable materials (fuels, oils, etc.).  Don’t place them next to a possible source of a fire as they can rapidly turn a bad situation into a disaster.  The simplest rule is to keep them contained and a away from the home to the greatest extent possible.

Christmas trees & Holiday lights – Although these fires are not common, when they do occur, they are likely to be unusually serious. On average, one of every 21 reported home structure Christmas tree fires resulted in a death compared to an average of one death per 137 total reported home structure fires.  Christmas tree must be well watered  if you let it get too dry it can quickly result in a fire so just check it frequently and leave the lights off if you are going to be away from home for a while.

Most of this information was obtained from the National Fire Protection Association.

If  fire has caused damage to your home please visit our website to file a claim at

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