Fires in the United States last year cost the country $11.5 billion in property damage. As staggering as that total is, it’s down from the estimated $12.4 billion recorded by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for 2012.
That’s just one finding contained in "Fire Loss in the United States in 2013", the most recent annual report released by the NFPA. The report compiles data on civilian fire deaths and injuries, property damage and intentionally set fires reported to the NFPA by fire departments that responded to the 2013 National Fire Experience Survey.
Last year, there were 1,240,000 fires reported in the U.S., down from the 1,375,500 fires responded to by public fire departments in 2012. It also represents the lowest rate of incidence since 1977-78 when the association began using its current survey methodology.
Of the fires reported in 2013, 487,500 involved structures, up about 1.5 percent from 2012. Nonresidential structure fires amounted to 100,500 in 2013, an increase of about 1 percent from the previous year. This category also included 70 civilian deaths, an increase of 7.7 percent from the previous year. The report defines the term “civilian” as “anyone other than a firefighter, and covers public service personnel such as police officers, civil defense staff, non-fire service medical personnel, and utility company employees.” Overall civilian deaths were up last year, too, from 2,855 in 2012 to 3,240 in 2013, with fires in the home accounting for about 85 percent. There were also 1,500 civilian injuries in nonresidential structures last year, a decrease of about 1.6 percent from 2012.
Estimates of civilian fire injuries are on the low side, the NFPA cautions, because many injuries are not reported to the responding fire service. This can occur at small fires to which fire departments don’t respond, or when fire departments aren’t aware of injured persons whom they didn’t transport to medical facilities.
Until last year, the number of structure fires had declined steadily, from a peak in 1977 of 1,098,000 to 480,500 in 2012. Whether last year’s numbers are a blip on the radar or represent the start of another trend remains to be seen, and it’s important to note that structure fires are just one part of a larger picture.
The report states there were an estimated 300 civilians who died in highway vehicle fires, statistically unchanged since 2012. From 1977 to 2013, the number of vehicle deaths on the nation’s roads has decreased 60 percent.
By region, the Midwest and the Northeast tied for the highest fire incident rate per thousand people (4.4), while the Midwest had the highest civilian death rate per million people (13.4).
The Northeast showed the highest civilian injury rate per million people (70.2), while the Midwest had the highest property loss per capita rate ($42.10).
The NFPA develops more than 300 codes and standards to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other hazards. All of those codes and standards can be found at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess .