The lead story on today’s local evening news covered another in a recent string of apartment fires in the San Antonio, Texas area. As I listened to interviews with apartment residents whose lives had been impacted in a sudden, terrible way, I was struck by the notion that apartment fires are occurring with increasing frequency. It seems as though we see a major apartment fire on the news every couple of weeks. On a national scale, however, the data show that apartment fires are less numerous than in the past.
Data collected by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) from 1980 to 2011 shows that apartment structure fires in the U.S. reached a low of 84,500 in 2000, compared to 143,500 in 1980. From 2001 through 2010 the numbers varied between 88,000 and 98,500. There were 95,500 such fires in 2011. Thankfully, fatalities have gradually decreased as well. The death toll in 1980 was 1,025 compared to 415 in 2011.
Cooking is the cause of nearly 50 percent of fires in apartments, just as it is in one and two-family dwellings. Arson ranks a distant second, at about 10 percent. Other leading causes are smoking, open flames (including candles) and faulty appliances. Most fires (more than 90 percent) are confined to the pan, fryer, or other cooking vessel and cause very little damage. The 5 or 6 percent of unconfined fires account for nearly all of the property loss. Statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration show that about half of the unconfined fires involve grease, oil, or animal fat and about three quarters of all fires start on a range or stove. The most common causal factor for these fires, by far, is unattended cooking equipment.
Whether you live in an apartment, a duplex or a single family dwelling, you should be aware of the risks related to cooking, paying close attention to items on the cooktop. Make sure that the smoke detectors in your living unit are operational by testing them periodically and changing the batteries at least twice a year. Mount a multipurpose fire extinguisher (rated for A, B and C-type fires) in a visible and accessible location that is not too close to the stove. Finally, protect yourself financially by carrying homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Talk to your independent agent about the policy that’s best for you. Taking these precautions can help safeguard the lives, property and resources not only of your family, but also of your neighbors.