“A Catastrophic Multiple-Death Fire Report” by Stephen Badger in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Journal, states that in 2017, 21 fires or explosions were considered catastrophic multiple-death fires. These fires killed 150 people, including 21 children under six years of age.
Of those 21 fires, 14 occurred in homes and accounted for 84 of the deaths, including all of the children under the age of six. Three fires and two explosions occurred in non-home structures and accounted for 19 of the deaths. Additionally, two wildland fires accounted for 47 deaths.
In 2017, firefighters responded to an estimated 1,319,500 fires. An estimated 499,000 of those occurred in structures, and an estimated 820,500 occurred outside of structures or involved vehicles. These fires accounted for an estimated 3,420 deaths, 2,810 of which occurred in structures and 610 in non-structure, vehicle, or outside fires.
The 21 catastrophic multiple-death fires in this report accounted for 0.002 percent of the total estimated number of fires and 4.4 percent of the total fire deaths in the U.S. in 2017.
The largest loss-of-life catastrophic multiple-death fire in 2017 was a wildfire incident in Northern California, referred to by Cal Fire as the “2017 October Fire Siege”, that killed 44 people, destroyed an estimated 8,900 structures, burned 245,000 acres (99,147 hectares) or 335 square miles (868 square kilometers), forced the evacuation of over 100,000 people, and caused property damage of over $9 billion.
The largest loss-of-life structure fire in 2017 was in an apartment building in New York that killed 13 people, including two children under the age of six. Thirteen people were trapped and died in different areas of the building.
According to Badger’s report, smoke alarms have been proven effective in reducing the risk of death in home fires. The most effective arrangement is interconnected, multiple-station smoke alarms supplied by hardwired AC power with a battery backup. These should be located outside each sleeping area, on each level, and in each bedroom.
Homeowners should routinely test smoke alarms according to manufacturers’ recommendations. NFPA recommends testing home smoke alarms at least monthly.