Causes of dwelling fires and fire-related fatalities

The following are some extracts from the Home Office report on house fires for April 2017 – March 2018. Its interesting to note that tumble dryers don’ get an individual mention but will be classified in with “other domestic Appliances” Cooking however is highlighted as being by far the main cause of domestic house fires.

The full report can be found here: Detailed analysis of fires attended by fire and rescue services, England, April 2017 to March 2018

Since 2010/11, the number of accidental dwelling fires has decreased by 13 per cent. This is in part due to a 16 per cent decrease (between 2010/11 and 2017/18) in fires where the ignition source was “cooking appliances”, as these make up around half of all accidental dwelling fires. Other ignition types that have contributed to the decrease include “space heating appliances” and “central and water heating appliances” (a decrease of 27% and 26% over the same time period, respectively). (Source: FIRE0602). Figure 6.1 shows the proportion of accidental dwelling fires, and their resulting non-fatal casualties and fire-related fatalities, attributable to different sources of ignition. 16 It shows that while some ignition sources cause many fires, they often result in relatively few fire-related fatalities, and vice versa.17 Specifically:

• Cooking appliances were by far the largest ignition category for accidental dwelling fires and non-fatal casualties from accidental dwelling fires, accounting for 48 per cent of these incidents each in 2017/18. In contrast, cooking appliances were the source of ignition in only seven per cent of accidental dwelling fire-related fatalities.

• Smokers’ materials (such as lighters, cigarettes, cigars or pipe tobacco) were the source of ignition in seven per cent of accidental dwelling fires and nine per cent of accidental dwelling fire non-fatal casualties in 2017/18. In contrast, smokers’ materials were the source of ignition in 20 per cent of fire-related fatalities in accidental dwelling fires in 2017/18.

• In previous years, smoker’s materials have been by far the largest ignition category involved in accidental dwelling fire-related fatalities. However, ‘Other electrical appliances’ was the largest category in 2017/18 due to the Grenfell Tower fire (specifically a fridge freezer which was recorded as the source of ignition for the fire) accounting for 34 per cent of fire-related fatalities in accidental dwelling fires. (Source: FIRE0602).

Main cause of, and material mainly responsible for, dwelling fires Exactly how a fire originated, and then the material which was mainly responsible for it spreading, are both important determinants in the outcomes of fires. Notably, and similarly to sources of ignition, above, the most common causes and materials responsible for the spread of fires are not those that lead to the greatest proportion of fire-related fatalities. Specifically: •

Of the 27,621 accidental dwelling fires in 2017/18, 34 per cent were caused by “misuse of equipment or appliances” (see figure 6.2 below), similar to the 35 per cent in 2016/17. The second largest cause category was “faulty appliances and leads” which caused 16 per cent of all accidental dwelling fires. (Source: FIRE0601)

Steve Bunyan

Engineer first, trainer 2nd