How many house fires occur each year? 2024

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a house on fire

Many people are unaware that there's often only a two-minute window to escape when a home fire occurs, making it the most common disaster across the United States. According to the American Red Cross, every day, home fires claim the lives of seven people on average, disproportionately affecting children and the elderly. Additionally, over 30 people sustain injuries from these fires each day. Furthermore, home fires result in over $7 billion in property damage annually. Between 2016 and 2020, about a quarter of all reported fires occurred in home properties.2 This report defines home properties as one- or two-family homes, apartments, and other types of multifamily housing.

Key insights

According to estimates from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 26% of the fires reported in the United States from 2016 to 2020 occurred in home settings.

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In the same period, an average of 350,800 home structure fires were reported annually.

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Cooking equipment was the primary cause behind home structure fires, accounting for 49% of such incidents.

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For decades, fires ignited by smoking materials have consistently been the leading cause, or one of the leading causes, of fatalities in home fires.

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In 2022, a fire involving a house structure was reported every 88 seconds.

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House fire statistics

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that between 2016 and 2020, the United States experienced an annual average of 350,800 home structure fires. These incidents resulted in approximately 2,708 civilian fatalities, 11,320 civilian injuries, and $7.3 billion in direct property damage each year.

  • Cooking equipment was the leading cause of home structure fires (49%) and home fire injuries (41%).
  • Smoking materials were the leading cause of home fire deaths, accounting for 24% of home fire fatalities.
  • Heating equipment was the second leading cause of home fires, accounting for 13% of reported fires annually.
  • It takes less than a minute for a small flame to escalate into a major fire.
  • Residents have approximately 2 minutes to exit before the smoke becomes life-threatening.

How common are house fires?

In 2022, a fire on a house structure was reported every 88 seconds. There was a house fire fatality every 3 hours and 14 minutes, and house fire injuries happened every 53 minutes. Even though 25% of all reported fires happened in home properties, they caused 72% and 75% of all fire fatalities and injuries, respectively. As mentioned earlier, home properties include one- or two-family homes, apartments, and other types of multifamily housing.

Reported home fires per year

In 2021, approximately 338,000 house fires were reported, marking a 5% decrease from 2020, which saw about 356,500 incidents. This figure also represents a significant 54% reduction from 1980, which recorded approximately 734,000 incidents. Despite this overall decline in house fires, the death toll in 2021 stood at 2,840, which is 45% lower than the estimate of 5,200 deaths in 1980. However, it also shows a 9% increase from the 2,580 deaths estimated in 2020.

Interestingly, when examining the death rate per 1,000 reported house fires in 2021, there was an 11% increase compared to 1980. Nonetheless, when considering the population-adjusted rates, both the incidence of house fires and the number of fire-related deaths in 2021 were approximately one-third of what they were in 1980. This indicates a significant improvement in fire safety and prevention measures over the past four decades despite the slight uptick in fatalities from 2020 to 2021.

When do most house fires occur?

During the 2016-2020 period:

  • Approximately 46% of home structure fires and 55% of home structure fire deaths occurred between November and March, during the cooler months when people spend more time indoors.
  • The peak time that house fires were reported was from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., when people were coming home from work, making dinner, or doing other household chores.
  • Only 19% of house fires were reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but these accounted for 49% of all house fire deaths.

Moreover, based on the 2015-2019 annual averages, most home structure house fires occurred on weekends. On average, 16% of house fires occur on Sundays and 15% on Saturdays. In terms of direct property damage, the highest annual losses also occurred during the weekend: $1,135 million were lost on Saturdays, and $1,113 million were lost on Sundays. The weekend days also saw the highest number of civilian injuries, as seen in the table below.

Between 2015 and 2019, the majority of home fires took place between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., accounting for 21% of all incidents. Despite this, the deadliest time for fires was from midnight to 3 a.m., when 21% of all fire-related deaths occurred, even though only 8% of fires happened in these early morning hours. This highlights a significant discrepancy between the frequency of fires and their deadly outcomes based on the time of day.

Causes of house fires

The majority of home fires and related fatalities and injuries can be attributed to six primary causes: cooking accidents, heating equipment malfunction, issues with electrical distribution and lighting equipment, intentional fire setting, incidents involving smoking materials, and the misuse of candles, lighters, or matches.

Cooking was the leading cause of home fires (49%) and fire injuries (41%) and the second leading cause of fire fatalities (20%). The average loss per fire incident reported was $7,200 (the least among the major causes responsible for house fires). Heating equipment was the second leading cause of house fires (13%) and third leading cause of house fire deaths (18%). Electrical distribution and lighting equipment caused 9% of house fires, but it is the leading cause of property damage (18%).

Intentional home fires accounted for 9% of home fires, with an average of 361 deaths and 820 injuries per year, and $596 million in direct property damage annually. Smoking materials were the leading cause of fire fatalities (23%) and were involved in 5% of reported home fires. On average, 7% of home structure fires per year were attributed to lighters, candles, or matches (24,900 fires), causing approximately 316 deaths each year. In particular, the candle fire injury rate was at 91 per 1,000 reported fires, about three times as much as the overall home fire injury rate.

In addition, the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) categorizes building fires into two levels of severity: confined fires and non-confined fires. Confined building fires are minor incidents restricted in size to specific equipment or objects, such as pots, fireplaces, or other non-combustible containers. These types of fires rarely lead to serious injuries or substantial loss of contents, and they typically do not result in significant property damage due to flames.

On the other hand, non-confined fires spread beyond specific equipment or objects, often resulting in larger and more destructive fires. These fires are more likely to cause serious injuries and greater property losses.

Fire costs per year

Between 1980 to 2020, the costliest year for home-fire-related property damage was 1991, with losses estimated at $10.39 billion, adjusted to 2020 dollars. The number of reported fires in 1991 was 464,500. By comparison, the largest number of home fires occurred in 1980 (734,000 fires), but the damages were lower than in 1991, totaling $8.96 billion (adjusted to 2020 dollars).

Fires and insurance

The cost of fire insurance is already included in a homeowner's insurance policy price. In 2023, the average annual homeowner's insurance premium was estimated at $1,900 for $250,000 in dwelling coverage in the United States. A home's location, age, size, construction type, and even threats common to the area (i.e., hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes) are among the factors that affect the cost per square foot.

Every homeowner’s insurance policy, from the most basic to the most comprehensive, covers fire damage as long as the fire was not intentionally started. This includes the house catching fire because of a flood or an earthquake, despite the fact that technically, earth movements and flooding are excluded from coverage. However, a standard policy will not cover fire damage from poor maintenance, regular wear and tear, or nuclear hazards. Filing a claim is necessary to receive reimbursements for expenses incurred. Once a claim is approved, it can cover costs up to the policy's limit, minus the applicable deductible.

Fire damage coverage that is included under a homeowners insurance policy includes:

  • Dwelling: cost to repair or rebuild a house and cost to remove debris. Reimbursement is up to the dwelling coverage limits in the policy.
  • Other structures: separate structures on a property like a shed or detached garage. The usual payout is up to 10% of the dwelling coverage limit.
  • Personal property: includes belongings like furniture, electronic equipment, and clothing. Standard policies cover these items based on their actual cash value and only up to 50% of the policy’s dwelling coverage limit, but this can be increased for an additional cost.
  • Loss of use: refers to temporary housing and other additional living expenses while the house under repair is uninhabitable. It usually accounts for 20% of a home’s dwelling coverage limit.

Factors that affect insurance coverage include:

  • Source of the fire: the origin of the fire can significantly affect coverage. Accidental fires, such as those caused by electrical issues, gas leaks, or mishaps in the kitchen, are typically covered. However, coverage for wildfires varies by location. Some policies may not offer coverage in regions prone to wildfires, while others might impose higher premiums or deductibles, or set specific coverage limits for wildfire-related damages.
  • Cause of the loss: the reason behind the damage is an important factor. Losses due to neglect or carelessness are often not covered, whereas damages arising from circumstances beyond one's control, such as a faulty electrical system, are usually covered. Arson, if committed by the homeowner, is not covered. However, if arson is committed by a third party, the damage may be covered as an act of vandalism.

FAQ

What is the annual number of reported house fires in the United States?

Approximately 338,000 house fires were reported in 2021, a 5% decline compared to the 356,500 reported incidents in 2020.

What is the leading cause of house fire fatalities in the United States?

Based on 2016-2020 data from the NFPA, smoking materials were the leading cause of home fire deaths, accounting for an annual average of 24% of all civilian fatalities.

What was the leading cause of direct property damage in home fire incidents?

During the 2016-2020 period, issues with electrical distribution and lighting equipment were identified as the top contributors to property damage in home fires.

How much does a fire insurance premium for a home cost?

In 2023, the estimated average yearly premium for homeowner's insurance, providing $250,000 in dwelling coverage, was $1,900 in the United States. Coverage for fire damages is already included in this premium.


References

  1. “Join the Home Fire Campaign”. American Red Cross. Evaluated Mar. 2, 2024.Link Here
  2. Hall, S. “Home Structure Fires”. NFPA. Evaluated Feb. 29, 2024.Link Here
  3. Hall, S. “Fire loss in the United States”. NFPA. Evaluated Mar. 1, 2024.Link Here
  4. “Home Fires”. Ready.gov. Evaluated Mar. 4, 2024.Link Here
  5. “Residential Building Fires (2017-2019)”. FEMA. Evaluated Mar. 6, 2024.Link Here
  6. Howard, P., McGinley, K. “Fire insurance: How to protect your home from fire damage”. Policygenius. Evaluated Mar. 6, 2024.Link Here
  7. McClanahan, A. “Does homeowners insurance cover fire damage?”. NJ.com. Evaluated Mar. 6, 2024.Link Here

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