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9 facts about fire

Important information to keep you informed about fire safety


The fire triangle represents the three components that fires need to exist: heat, oxygen and fuel. If one of these components is missing, a fire can’t ignite.

Whether you are hoping to join the fire service or are a firefighter charged with educating the public on fire safety, here are nine things everyone should know about fire behavior.

1. The fire triangle

A simplified cousin to the fire tetrahedron, the triangle represents the three components that fires need to exist: heat, oxygen and fuel. If one of these components is missing, a fire can’t ignite.
Heat can be generated by a cigarette, an electrical current or a home heater. Fuel can be anything combustible, such as wood, paper, clothing, furniture, gases or chemicals.

Once a fire starts, if any of the three components is removed, the fire is extinguished. Water is used to cool a fire and take away the heat source. Oxygen can be removed by smothering a fire with dirt, sand, a chemical agent or a blanket. Fuel can be removed by moving combustible materials away from the fire or by simply waiting until the fire consumes the material and goes out of its own accord.

2. Fire kills

Every year about 3,655 people die fire-related deaths in the U.S. Approximately 15,200 civilians are injured every year in fires. Most of these fires could have been prevented by practicing proper fire safety and having fire alarms. On average more than 60 firefighters die every year in the line of duty, though that number fell below 50 for the first time in 2019.

3. It’s in the kitchen

Most house fires start in the kitchen. Cooking is the leading cause of home fire injuries. Cooking fires often start from overheated grease and unattended cooking. Electric stoves are involved in more fires than gas stoves.

4. Leading causes of death

Another fact about fire is that smoking is the primary cause of fatal fires in the U.S. The second most common cause of fatal fires is heating equipment.

5. Arson

Arson is the third most common cause of home fires. Arson in commercially-operated buildings is the main cause of fire deaths and injuries in those types of properties.

6. Smoke inhalation

More people die from smoke inhalation than flames. Fire can suck all of the oxygen from a room and replace it with poisonous smoke and gases before flames even reach a room. Many times people die from lack of oxygen before the fire reaches their room.

7. Run report

According to the NFPA, firefighters in the U.S. were called out on 499,000 structure fires in 2018. From 2014 to 2018, there was an average of 2,844 civilian deaths and 12,812 civilian injuries in structure fires per year, and a total estimated cost of $328.5 billion for all fire incidents in 2014, which includes firefighting expenditures and fire losses.

8. Candles

Candles cause approximately 7,610 home fires and 81 home fire deaths per year. They are also responsible for a yearly average of 677 injuries and $278 million in property damage.

9. Smoke alarms

Approximately two-thirds of all fire deaths happen in homes where there is no working fire alarm. Your chance of dying in a home fire is cut in half if you have a working smoke alarm.

This article, originally published in 2011, has been updated.

Laura French is a former editorial assistant for FireRescue1 and EMS1, responsible for curating breaking news and other stories that impact first responders. In a prior role at Forensic Magazine, French was able to combine her interests in journalism, forensics and criminology. French has a bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism with a minor in criminology from Ramapo College in New Jersey.