For most Americans, Thanksgiving Day invokes memories of safe and warm family gatherings featuring hot turkey dinners. But for some 2,000 families a year, and for firefighters across the country, the memories are not so happy.
There are an estimated 2,000 fires in residential buildings in the United States each Thanksgiving Day. That’s more than double the number on a typical day.
Like any fire, Thanksgiving Day fires can be deadly — five people die on average each Thanksgiving Day from fires– and they cause injuries to occupants and emergency responders.
What’s more, they cost an estimated $21 million in property losses. The typical loss is about $8,840— which is about half of non-Thanksgiving Day fire losses.
The statistics come from a report by the U.S. Fire Administration based on 2006 to 2008 data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).
The leading cause of all Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings is, by far, cooking.
Thanksgiving Day fires occur most frequently in the afternoon hours from noon to 4 p.m. Smaller, confined fires account for 71 percent and larger, nonconfined fires account for 29 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings.
According to USFA, smoke alarms were not present in 20 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires that occurred in occupied residential buildings.
Electrical malfunctions (14 percent), carelessness or other unintentional actions (14 percent), and open flames (13 percent), are the leading causes of the larger, nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in homes.
Thanksgiving Day is also a reminder that the country is heading into the cold season, when fires increase.
Citing recent fires in Pennsylvania and Florida which claimed the lives of nine children and one adult and may have been caused by space heaters, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) announced a jointly sponsored special initiative, “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires.”
“These fires are a painful reminder of what we see every year – the temperatures drop and fires increase,” said NFPA President Jim Shannon. According to NFPA statistics space heaters account for about one third of the home heating fires yet more than 80 percent of the home heating fire deaths.
The “Winter Residential Building Fires” report released by USFA in 2010, reports an estimated 108,400 winter residential building fires occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries, and $1.7 billion in property loss.
Cooking is the leading cause of winter residential building fires at 36 percent followed by heating at 23 percent, and winter residential building fires occur mainly in the early evening hours, peaking from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
According to NFPA, little progress has been made in reducing deaths from home cooking fire. The average of 460 deaths per year in 2004-2008 was only 7 percent lower than the 500 per year in 1980-1984. Meanwhile, fire rates among other types of home fires have steadily declined.
USFA and NFPA have compiled information about the various causes of fire during the winter months, winter storm fire safety, holiday fire safety and tips that will help reduce or prevent the incidence of fire in the home on their websites. This information can be found at www.usfa.dhs.gov/winter or www.nfpa.org/winter.