Elderly, African American, and rural residents at greatest risk of fire death

Certain populations in the United States are at much greater risk of death or injury caused by a fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s 2014 “Characteristics of Home Fire Victims” report.

The report found that adults age 65 and older are 2.4 times as likely to die in a fire as the general population, and adults 85 and older are 3.6 times as likely to die in a fire.

From 2007-2011, African Americans were twice as likely to have been injured or die in a fire than the general population, with even greater disparities among African American children and adults 65 and older.

The report also warns that people who live in rural areas are at increased risk of injury or death, as communities with less than 2,500 people experienced a fire death rate nearly twice the national average.

The top causes for fire deaths and injuries include extension cords, cooking equipment, and ineffective or missing smoke alarms.

Extension Cords

Roughly 3,300 home fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring 270 more. Extension cords can overheat and cause fires when used improperly, so keep these important tips in mind to protect your home and workplace:

  • Don’t attempt to plug extension cords into one another
  • Make sure extension cords are properly rated for their intended use, indoor or outdoor, and meet or exceed the power needs of the device being used
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords clear of snow and standing water
  • Do NOT overload extension cords
  • A heavy reliance on extension cords is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have additional outlets installed where you need them
  • Inspect cords for damage before use. Check for cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections
  • Do NOT nail or staple extension cords to walls or baseboards
  • Do NOT run extension cords through walls, doorways, ceilings, or floors. If a cord is covered, heat cannot escape, which may result in a fire hazard
  • Never use three-prong plugs with outlets that only have two slots. Never cut off the ground pin to force a fit, which could lead to electric shock
  • Buy only cords that have been approved by an independent testing laboratory
  • Do NOT substitute extension cords for permanent wiring
  • Do NOT use an extension cord or power strip with heaters or fans, which could cause cords to overheat and result in a fire

Cooking Equipment

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries in the United States. According to the National Fire Protection Association, ranges or cooktops cause 62 percent of home fires.

Learn how to stay safe with these tips:

  • Keep anything that can catch fire away from your stove top
  • Always unplug countertop appliances when not in use 
  • Make sure you have, and test, GFCI receptacles in your kitchen to prevent shock and electrocution
  • Check that everything is off when you finish cooking
  • Keep your oven and stove top clean of grease and dust
  • Never leave the kitchen while cooking
  • Never cook while sleepy, drinking alcohol, or taking medication that makes you drowsy
  • Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking
  • Never use a cooking stove to heat your home

Smoke Alarms

Two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes with missing or non-functioning smoke alarms.

ESFI is reminding the public to ensure that there are working smoke alarms in the following areas:

  • Every bedroom
  • Outside each sleeping area
  • On every level of your home, including basement
  • On levels without bedrooms: install in living room, den, or family room
  • Install near stairways leading to upper levels
  • Install smoke alarms 10 feet from cooking appliances to minimize false alarms

People who are hard of hearing should consider alternative smoke alarms such as low-pitch sound and vibration smoke alarms. Remember to test smoke alarms monthly, change batteries yearly, and replace the alarm every ten years.

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