More fires reported in US in 2020 than 2019 … but why?

The total number of fires in America rose 8% in 2020 over 2019, results from the National Fire Protection Association’s findings from its latest “Fire Loss in the U.S.” report, and it’s likely the spike is pandemic-induced. While some year-to-year fluctuation is normal, this increase reflects a far from typical year due to the pandemic, the association said.

“In 2020, more people were working and studying at home, commuting far less, and spending more time socializing outside,” Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA, said. “It appears that the fires followed these shifts.”

According to the report, which provides a broad overview of how, when and where U.S. fires occur and their impact on life and property, residential structure fires rose 5% from 2019 to 2020, while non-residential structure fires fell 8%. Highway vehicle fires fell9%; outside and other fires rose 17%. Civilian deaths and injuries fell 6 and 8% respectively.

Over the long-term, much progress has been made in reducing the U.S. fire problem. The estimated total of fires was 54% lower in 2020 than in 1980, while fire death and injury estimates were 46% and 50%  lower, respectively, over the same period. Because the U.S. population has grown since 1980, population-based rates have dropped even more than the estimates have.

“Overall, we’ve seen significant declines in the total number of fires and fire deaths over the past 40 years. That’s the good news,” Carli said. “At the same time, most of the reduction in reported fires and fire losses occurred more than a decade ago. There is still more work to do, particularly around home fires.”

The report also notes less progress has been made in preventing fire deaths and injuries associated with home fires.

About 74% of all U.S. fire deaths occur in homes.

The rate of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 reported home fires was almost identical to the rate of 7.1 in 1980.

“While home fires are happening less often, when they do occur, people are struggling to escape safely,” Carli said. “These findings reinforce the critical importance of better educating the public about how fast today’s home fires grow and spread, how little time they have to escape from the time the smoke alarm sounds and the know-how to use that time wisely in the event of a home fire.”

Key findings from the report include the following:

Overall, local fire departments responded to an estimated 1,388,500 fires in 2020, resulting in 3,500 civilian deaths, 15,200 civilian injuries and $21.9 billion in direct property damage.

Every 23 seconds, a fire department in the United States responds to a fire somewhere in the nation.

A fire occurs in a structure at the rate of one every 64 seconds, and a home fire occurs every 89 seconds.

The death rate per 1,000 reported one- or two-family home fires was 16% higher than in 1980, while the comparable rate for apartment fires was 43% lower.

Some 64% of all U.S. home-fire deaths occurred in one- or two-family homes; another 10% occurred in apartments or other multi-family housing.

Around 18% of fire deaths were in vehicles.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.