Fire Losses: Causes, Trends, Issues
Fire Loss in Ontario 2009–2013
Causes, Trends and Issues
The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) has an historical database which contains reports filed by fire departments on every fire call. Municipal fire departments report to the OFMEM on every call they attend (fires and non fires). This data is in a database that goes back to 1983.
This data can be viewed in many ways - by province, by municipality, over time, at specific types of occupancies, ignition sources, and even by injuries or fatalities.
This summary provides information on Ontario loss fires, fires with a reported injury, fatality or dollar loss, for the five year period from 2009 to 2013.
Examining trends over time provides more information on the impact of fire education and prevention measures. The OFMEM has done several multi year studies on why, when and where of Ontario fires.
Overview of fires (with loss reported*)
*fires resulting in an injury, fatality or dollar loss
The graph shows that the total fires reported have been decreasing, even as the number of population and structures have been increasing. This does not reflect decreased reporting. From 2009 to 2013 the number of total calls reported – fire and non fire calls has decreased by 6% from 484,625 incidents reported in 2009 to 455,007 in 2013.
Loss fires are defined as any fire with an injury, fatality or dollar loss reported.
All Loss fires reported have declined from 12,945 in 2009 to 10,733 in 2013, a drop of 17%.
Structure fires are about 67% (2013) of the total fires with loss. The number of these types of fires have been decreasing.
The graph shows a total decline from 8,286 in 2009 to 7,191 in 2013 a drop of 13%.
Residential fires account for about 73% (2013) of structure fire losses. These fires have also decreased from 5,914 in 2009 to 5,268 in 2012, a drop of 11%.
Loss fires by Property class
From 2009 to 2013, there were 59,353 fires with loss reported to the OFMEM.
- 47% of these fires occurred in Residential occupancies.
- 27% occurred in vehicles.
- 13% of fires occurred on structures/properties not classified by the Ontario Building code – this includes many non structure property types – land, outdoor storage, and some structures ranging from barns to weather stations.
- 5% of loss fires occurred in Industrial occupancies.
- 3% in Assembly occupancies.
- 2% in Mercantile occupancies
- 2% in Business and personal services occupancies.
- 1% in Care and detention occupancies.
The distribution of fire occurrence across property type has been relatively unchanged over the years.
Loss Fires Property class: Structures only
From 2009 to 2013, there were 38,532 Structure fires with loss reported to the OFMEM.
- Fires in residential occupancies account for 72% of structure loss fires.
- Industrial occupancies – 7% of structure loss fires.
- Assembly occupancies –5%
- Properties not classified by the Ontario Building code – 8%
- Mercantile – 4%
- Business and Personal Services – 3%
- Care and Detention Occupancies – 1%
This distribution of fire incidents across structure property types has been consistent over many years.
Structure fires: Ignition source
- 10% of the structure loss fires were suspected to be arson or vandalism.
- Between 2009 and 2013 the ignition sources in other structure loss fires were:-
- 18% cooking;
- 11% miscellaneous, which includes exposure fires, natural causes, chemical reactions;
- 9% heating/cooling;
- 9% electrical distribution equipment – wiring;
- 7% cigarettes;
- 4% appliances; 4% other open flame tools excluding matches, lighters;
- 3% other electrical, mechanical;
- 2% candles; 2% lighting excluding candles;
- 1% matches or lighters (excluding arson fires); 1% processing equipment;
- 19% reported as undetermined.
Structure Fires: Ignition source - Average number of fires per year
Excluding Arson fires and ignition source undetermined.
Comparing the average number of fire fatalities by ignition source during the 5 year period 2004 to 2008 with the 5 year period 2009 to 2013 shows that structure fires ignited by cooking equipment, heating/cooling, electrical wiring and appliances have declined.
- Cooking 2009-2013 - average of 1,357 fires per year, a decline of 6%.
- Heating, cooling 2009-2013 - average of 664 fires per year, a decline of 19%.
- Electrical wiring, outlets, etc. 2009-2013 - average of 677 fires per year, a decline of 16%.
- Cigarettes 2009-2013 - 530 fires per year, a decline of 3%.
- Appliances 2009-2013 - 341 fire per year, a decline of 9%.
Structure Fires Ignition source: Cooking Equipment
From 2009 to 2013 there is decrease in the number of structure fires ignited by cooking equipment.
Most of these fires occur in residential structures – in 2013 - 90%.
Injuries have varied over this period from 187 in 2009 to a high of 247 in 2012 dropping again in 2013 to 219.
The number of fatalities in fires ignited by cooking equipment has steadily dropped over the past 5 years from a high of 13 in 2009 to a low of 4 in 2013.
With small numbers of fatalities, a single fire resulting in multiple deaths make trends difficult to discern.
Structure Fires Ignition source: Electrical distribution equipment
69% (2013) of the electrical fires occurred in residential properties, most of the injuries and virtually all of the fire deaths in fires started by electrical equipment occurred in homes.
From 2009 to 2012 the number of fires identified as ignited by electrical equipment declined from 726 to 633, a drop of 13% in the number of fires. 2013 saw a slight increase (1%) to 643 fires reported.
The number of injuries shows no trend, ranging from a high of 52 in 2009 to a low of 34 in 2012 to 50 in 2013.
Fatalities range from 0 to 5. There is no trend evident. Small numbers can be impacted significantly by the incidence of only a few fires or a fire resulting in multiple fatalities.
Structure Fires Ignition source: Heating equipment
Heating equipment and electrical equipment fires factor significantly as ignition sources in home fires.
After a decline in fires started by heating equipment from 747 fires reported in 2009 down to 580 in 2012, a decrease of 23%, 2013 saw an increase of 11% to 646 fires reported. Home fires account for 80% (2013) of these fires.
There is no discernible trend in the number of injuries in fires started by heating equipment.
Fatalities vary from year to year and ranged from 4 to 1 between 2009 and 2012 and 2 in 2013. Small numbers are easily impacted by only a few fire incidents, so trends cannot be identified.
Structure Fires Ignition source: Lit Smoking materials (cigarettes, cigars, pipes excluding matches or lighters)
In 2013, 87% of fires started by lit smoking materials occurred in the home.
Lit smokers materials – cigarettes, are the number 1 ignition source in fatal fires.
The number of fatalities in fires started by lit smoking materials showed a significant downward trend from 30 fatalities in 1996 to 14 in 2002. Between 2009 and 2013 there was a range of 7 to 22 fatalities. However, with the small number of incidents, a fire with multiple deaths can create variations that are not indicative of a trend.
Structure Fires Ignition source: Appliances
Fires ignited by appliances have declined by 13% from 2009 to 2012, but increased by 7% in 2013.
In 2013, 81% of fires ignited by appliances were in homes.
The number of injuries reported in fires ignited by appliances has varied ranging from a high of 31 to a low of 18. No trend is evident.
There were 0 fire fatalities between 2009 and 2013.
Structure Fires Ignition source: Candles
While the number of fires ignited by candles is small, it is the only ignition source that showed an increase in the number of fires to the year 2003. In 1995 there were 206 fires ignited by candles. By 2003 this had increased to 316, an increase of 54% when other ignition sources were on the decline. In 2008 Candle fires dropped and continued to decline to 133 in 2012. 2013 saw an increase of 3 for a total of 136 fires reported.
93% of the candle fires occur in the home.
There is no trend in the numbers of injuries or fatalities.
Fires ignited by candles out number fires ignited by matches and lighters (excluding arson).
Structure Fires Ignition source: Matches or lighters
Arson accounts for 70% (2013) of the fires ignited by matches or lighters (not included in this chart).
There was a 38% decrease in the number of these fires from 226 in 1996 to 140 in 2002, and a 38% decrease from a high of 100 fires in 2010 to 62 in 2013. Although the number of fires started by matches or lighters increased by 2 from 98 in 2009 to 100 in 2010, the trend since 2010 has been downward.
There is no trend in injuries.
Fatalities in preventable fires ignited by matches or lighters is variable and shows no trend, ranging from a peak of 5 deaths to 0, varying year to year.