Home Office publishes new research into fatal fires in England

New research into fatal fires has been published for the first time since 2006. The report covers the period 2010 to 2018/19 and shows that on average, five people per week died in fires. The number of people dying in fires every year has reduced from 755 in 1981 to 251 in the year to March 2019.

The report uses data from the Incident Recording System and from Fire Investigation Reports and was intended to understand the circumstances of fires the risks and behaviours and make recommendations for best practice for documenting fatal fires in the future.

The findings show that three quarters of fatal fires occur in dwellings, with a quarter started by smoking materials. Two thirds of victims are male and just under half are over the age of 65. The report goes into considerable detail about the mobility impairments of those who die in fires.

“The overall profile of fatal victims of fire in England is consistent with previous years (Smith & Wright, 2006) and international findings (Fire Service Academy, 2018), meaning fire safety interventions should already be targeting those more at risk.”

Smoke alarm ownership is high but for this cohort, the report suggests that reliance on smoke alarms is not enough for those who are unable to respond due to mobility impairments.

There is some detail in this report about deliberate fatal fires as well. There are some instances in which children playing with fire has led to fatalities and severe casualties, and there are a small number of suicides involving accelerants.

The report concludes that, “The data collected throughout the IRS and FIRs provides valuable information on the factors associated with fatal and severe casualty fires, however there are inconsistencies in the recording of information. Improved recording of information would further contribute to understanding these incidents. In particular, data on victim ethnicity, the presence of impairments, and household profile where current recording is particularly poor.”

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