Do you know what the number one cause of house fires is in the United States? It might surprise you. Cooking is the leading cause of house fires in the United States.

During 2018, there were 379,600 residential building fires

As a result of those fires, 2,790 people died and 11,525 people were injured in house fires. The financial loss from fires that year was almost $8.2 billion. Property owners or other parties may have personal injury liability if someone is injured in a house fire.

Over ten years from 2009 through 2018, there was a four percent increase in house fires. During that same period, there were thirteen percent more deaths, but 19 percent fewer injuries. Cooking continued to be the most common cause of house fires during the ten years.

However, house fires can occur for many reasons. This outline details the common causes of house fires in the United States.

Most Common Causes of House Fires

In all of the leading causes of house fires in the U.S., property owners, manufacturers, and other parties can be liable if someone is injured or killed in a house fire. 

For example, if a house fire is caused by faulty work or defective devices, the responsible parties could be liable for wrongful death fatalities. A property owner who negligently causes a house fire could be liable for damages if the fire spreads to a neighboring house.

What are the most common causes of house fires in the U.S?

Cooking

As stated above, cooking is the most common cause of residential fires. Thanksgiving Day is the peak day for cooking fires. Fire departments responded to approximately 1,600 cooking fires on Thanksgiving in 2017.

About 44 percent of house fires begin in the kitchen or cooking area. From 2013 through 2017, 49 percent of home structure fires were caused by cooking. 

What causes home fires from cooking? Leaving things cooking in the kitchen unattended is a leading cause of house fires. Spills and open flames from stoves are also common causes of kitchen fires.

Tools and food can catch on fire and spread quickly. If someone is not in the kitchen to extinguish the fire, it spreads rapidly through the house. Every kitchen should have a fire extinguisher that is rated for kitchen fires. 

Heating Equipment

Heating equipment is another leading cause of house fires. In 2018, there were 35,700 fires caused by heating equipment or heating sources. While furnaces can cause fires in a home, space heaters and fireplaces are more common sources of heating equipment fires.

Space heaters can cause fires when they are placed too close to other items. Anything that is combustible or can catch fire should not be anywhere near a space heater. Space heaters should not be left unattended.

Faulty Wiring

Faulting wiring is another leading cause of fires in homes. There are usually signs that the wiring in a home might be faulty. 

Blown fuses, blinking lights, lights that dim when you use appliances, and sparks from electrical outlets are common signs that the wiring in a home may be faulty. Landlords who do not correct faulty wiring can be liable for the damages caused by a faulty wiring fire.

Christmas Tree Fires

Christmas tree fires are another leading cause of house fires. On average, six people died and 16 people were injured each year from 2011 through 2015 in fires caused by Christmas trees. Christmas tree fires also caused about $14.8 million in property damage each year.

One of the most common reasons for Christmas tree fires is not watering the tree enough. Trees become dry and brittle, which makes them a perfect source for a fire. 

Leaving Christmas tree lights turned on when going to bed or leaving the house is dangerous. Lights left turned on cause the tree to overheat and catch fire.

Real and artificial trees can also catch fire if placed too close to the fireplace or other heat source. Christmas trees should never be placed near the fireplace or any heat source. 

Smoking Materials

Smoking causes thousands of house fires each year. House fires can start from a lit cigarette or a lighter. 

Accidentally dropped cigarettes when someone falls asleep can quickly spread a fire through the entire house. Smoking outside of the home is the most effective way to reduce the risk of house fires caused by smoking materials.

Candles

Candles are another common cause of house fires in the United States. Most of the home fires caused by candles result from negligence. Candles should never be left unattended. 

You can reduce the risk of fires caused by candles by trimming the wicks each time you use the candle. Electric and battery-operated candles can also help reduce the risk of house fires caused by candles.

Appliances

Appliances result in thousands of house fires each year. Fires started by an appliance can quickly spread to other rooms in the house. Defective appliances can cause a spark, which ignites a fire. 

However, leaving appliances unattended and misusing appliances are also common causes of appliance fires in homes. 

Electrical Fires and Malfunctioning or Defective Products

About thirteen percent of house fires are caused by electrical failures or malfunctioning and defective products. The most common cause of electrical fires or fires related to malfunctioning or defective products is electrical distribution and lighting equipment. That accounts for 50 percent of these types of house fires. 

Cooking equipment, heating equipment, fans, air conditioners, and clothes dryers are also common sources of electrical fires. Additionally, defective toys or electronics may result in house fires and child injuries

Preventative and Safety Measures

Fire departments respond to fires every 24 seconds in the United States. A person dies every 144 minutes and a person is injured every 35 minutes as the result of a civilian fire. Sadly, many of the fires that result in death and injury could be prevented if individuals followed basic fire safety and prevention measures.

Basic fire prevention and safety measures include:

  • Always unplug unused electronics and appliances.
  • Have fire extinguishers throughout your home, especially in the kitchen.
  • Stay in the kitchen whenever you are broiling, frying, or grilling food.
  • Smoke outside of your home. Never smoke in bed.
  • Replace all damaged or worn appliance cords immediately.
  • Never run cords under furniture or rugs.
  • Keep space heaters away from combustible objects.
  • Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.
  • Have fireplaces and wood stoves inspected each year before use
  • Never leave candles burning in an empty room.

ReadyGov, the Red Cross, and the CDC have additional tips for preventing house fires.

In case of fire, you and your family need to know what to do. Create a fire escape plan. Your plan should include what to do in a fire, such as crawling along the floor and feeling doors and doorknobs before opening a door.

Practice your escape plan periodically with the entire family. Teaching your children what to do in the event of a house fire can save their lives. Some local fire departments offer courses for fire safety in the home. 

Knowing the common causes of fires, how to prevent common causes of house fires, and how to react if a fire breaks out could mean the difference between life and death.