Most Common Causes of Residential Fires

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Two firefighters standing in front a fireData from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) indicates that there were 365,000 residential home fires in the United States in 2012. Not only did these fires equate to $5.7 billion in property damage, they also cost 2,380 lives, not including firefighters that may also have been lost. There were also 12,875 injuries sustained by homeowners and their families.

In breaking down this data, the NFPA has identified the most common causes of household fires. These include:

Appliances & Equipment

Any device that generates heat (stoves, clothes dryers, heaters) or heats up with extended use (computers, fans,) is a potential fire hazard. We know that cooking vessels left unattended is a frequent cause of avoidable fires.


Every candle comes with a warning: “a burning candle should never be left unattended.” Yet, as with cooking fires, candles are often forgotten and can burn out of control. Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve are when the greatest incidence of candle fires occurs.

Holiday Decorations

Candles aren’t alone when causing fire tragedies during the winter holiday season. Christmas tree lights and other lit decorations are obvious culprits. Live trees that are left to dry out are an easy target for incineration by hot lights.

Electrical Systems & Devices

Any device that uses electrical power has fire potential. Over-heated lighting equipment comes in at the top of the list. Shoddy electrical work within a home – poorly connected circuits, loose wires, improper grounding – is also a danger that is often unknown to homeowners.


As with cooking, smoking is a major cause of residential fires. People fall asleep while smoking and set their bed, chair or couch on fire, which can easily result in a fatality. Another avoidable hazard is discarding still-hot ashes into a trash can where they can ignite.

Chemical & Gases

Home fires can easily be caused by natural gas and propane sources. An errant spark combined with a small leak can create a combustible situation. Improperly mixed household chemicals are also a danger that few homeowners consider.


Lightning fires most commonly occur during the summer months when afternoon and early evening storms are at their peak. Homes in heavily wooded areas are extra vulnerable to lightning strikes that set the surrounding landscape on fire.


Small children unknowingly playing with fire inside the home are a parent’s worst nightmare. Older kids who know what fire can do – and just want to see what happens – are equally dangerous.

Learn More

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