Every year, thousands of Americans lose their valuables, their homes, and even their lives from house fires. A burning building can cause flames, smoke, the release of dangerous fumes and the possible loss of life and all of your belongings. Even a partial house or apartment fire can cause serious injuries, emotional trauma, and massive financial losses. Put simply, fires are life-changing disasters.
Fire by the numbers in the U.S.
To help address the nation’s fire problem, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) collects and analyzes data from various sources around the country to provide information for:
- Creating a baseline to evaluate fire prevention programs
- Increasing fire safety awareness
- Motivating corrective actions and setting priorities
- Better targeting public education programs
The USFA collected the following statistics from 2019 (the most recent year available):
- 1,291,500 fires overall
- 354,400 residential fires
- 3,704 related deaths
- 16,600 related burn injuries
- $14.8 billion in losses
These billion-dollar losses include the Colorado, California, and Tennessee wildfires.
Common reasons house fires happen
A fire can start for any number of reasons – a candle tipping over, a burning cigarette, even arson – but the National Fire Protection Association tells us that the most prevalent cause of house fires is unattended cooking. Cooking fires come in number one in the NFPA’s top four causes of residential fires in 2019, which saw:
- 178,100 cooking fires
- 33,100 heating fires
- 27,200 unintentional, careless fires
- 24,200 electrical malfunction fires
How do these fires occur every year? Let’s take a deeper dive into each category.
Cooking and kitchen fires
First, never leave cooking unattended, especially when children are around. Second, the majority of stovetop and oven fires start from grease overheating and splattering. Because grease is highly flammable, in the right conditions it can burst into flames. All it needs is a dishtowel or anything flammable to ignite and a grease fire can quickly grow out of control, especially when a person has left their cooking unattended.
Grease fires are also difficult to extinguish. Never put water on a grease fire as it will just help spread the fire. Deprive it of oxygen by smothering the flames or use your kitchen fire extinguisher. If you are in doubt about how to handle it, the NFPA advises just getting out of the house and calling 911.
Space and portable heating fires
Portable heaters are convenient during cold weather and help save money on heating bills. They are also the second most common cause of house fires, especially if used improperly or defective. Because they can give off so much heat, space heaters should be kept at least three feet away from anything flammable, including people. Heaters should also be placed on a solid flat surface to eliminate the risk of tipping over, which is especially important with kerosene and oil heaters. Always follow the instructions on a space heater and never leave one unattended.
The NFPA reports faulty wiring and other electrical issues caused over 24,000 residential fires in 2019. Because electrical fires tend to hide inside the walls and other hard-to-access locations within a building, they can be extremely dangerous. If you live an older home, make sure you have a qualified electrician inspect your wiring to ensure that everything is up to code. Warning signs that your home may be a fire risk include frequently blowing fuses, flickering lights, discolored wall outlets, or sparks. The NFPA lists important safety tips.
Types of injuries from residential fires
Injuries from a house fire can take weeks, months, or even years from which to heal. Some victims of serious burns may suffer chronic pain and permanent scarring, depending on the extent of their injuries. Many personal injury attorneys and insurance companies refer to burn injuries as “catastrophic injuries,” as they require extensive, long-term medical treatment and are life-changing for the victim. Victims of burn injuries often live with physical pain and emotional trauma.
Burns fall into four degrees, or categories. First-degree burns are the least severe, with fourth-degree burns typically being fatal.
- First-degree burns. A first-degree burn is like a sunburn, with minor pain and redness on the top layer of skin, the epidermis. These burns should heal on their own in a few days, but a person should seek medical attention if the burn covers a wide area of the body.
- Second-degree burns. This burn goes deeper into the skin. It may cause pain and liquid-filled blisters. Patients have a moderate risk of infection and should seek medical care to help the healing process along.
- Third-degree burns. Extremely serious burns, skin may appear dry and leathery. In extreme cases, it can appear charred. Victims may be spared immediate pain due to deep nerve damage. Treatment typically includes multiple surgeries and skin grafts. Risk of infection is extremely high.
- Fourth-degree burns. Most people do not survive fourth-degree burns. These burns go down to the bone, destroying skin, muscle, and nerves. Patients who survive typically undergo amputations and extensive reconstructive surgeries.
Burn injuries are not the only danger from house fires. Smoke inhalation is just as big a threat to one’s physical health and respiratory system, causing health issues like:
- Inhalation of noxious gases. When a building burns, so does everything in it. This means the building materials, plastics, combustibles, corrosives, and any toxic chemicals inside the house or garage. Depending on the material, this can irritate or damage nasal passages and lungs.
- Loss of oxygen. Fires feed on oxygen, sucking it from the air and away from your lungs. Too little oxygen can cause drowsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness, and death.
- Smoke inhalation. Smoke is made up of a variety of airborne particles that can damage your respiratory system and cause difficulty breathing.
At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, our burn injury attorneys ensure that when you suffer harm due to another’s negligence, you have a strong advocate in your corner. We understand the ongoing impact of catastrophic injuries and work to secure the compensation you deserve.
To schedule your free, confidential case evaluation today, call our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page to share your experience.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
Read more about Jeffrey R. Harris here.