From 2008 to 2010, an estimated average of 50,100 heating fires in residential buildings occurred in the United States each year and resulted in an annual average of approximately 150 deaths, 575 injuries, and $326 million in property loss, according to government figures.
Fall begins this Saturday, and with it comes cooler temperatures and the resulting seasonal increase in the number of home heating fires. The term “heating fires” applies to those fires that are caused by central heating units, fixed or portable local heating units, fireplaces, heating stoves, chimneys, and water heaters.
Previously, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s, heating was, by far, the leading cause of residential building fires. Stimulated, in part, by an energy shortage, this surge in heating fires was the result of the sudden increased use of alternative heating, particularly wood heating stoves and space heaters.
Since then, the overall numbers of heating fires have substantially decreased. In 1983, there were 200,000 heating fires, but by 2010, that number had fallen to an estimated 46,800.
Cooking is the leading cause of residential fires.
A new report from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), “Heating Fires in Residential Buildings (2008-2010)” is based on data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and provides more detail on the different types of heating fires and when they are most likely to occur. According to the USFA report:
- Residential building heating fires peak in the early evening hours between 5 and 9 p.m. with the highest peak between 6 and 8 p.m. This four-hour period accounts for 30 percent of all residential building heating fires.
- Residential building heating fires peaked in January (21 percent) and declined to the lowest point during the summer months from June to August.
- Confined fires, those fires confined to chimneys, flues, or fuel burners, accounted for 87 percent of residential building heating fires.
- Thirty percent of the non-confined residential building heating fires occurred because the heat source was too close to combustibles.
As heating season gets underway in many parts of the country, the USFA offers the following safety tips:
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.
- Use heating equipment that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
- All heaters need space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment.
- Plug space heaters directly into outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms inside a home to provide early warning of CO.