USA — This past weekend, firefighters working to contain the widespread blazes in Texas received some much-needed assistance from Mother Nature in the form of rain, glorious rain.
Houston-area residents expressed relief for the half inch of precipitation, as one particularly destructive wildfire (which had already burned through 32,000 acres) was contained, along with other fires across the state. Perhaps most notably, Texas Forest Service officials reported yesterday that the Bastrop firewhich began during Labor Day weekend about 30 miles east of Austin, killing two people and ravaging at least 1,554 homeswas 95-percent contained.
Although these blazes will be etched in the states record books for the magnitude of their destruction, they underscore the extent to which communities routinely rely on firefighters and other first responders to not only keep them safe but also to mitigate damages should disaster strike.
In support of the first responders in Texas and throughout the U.S., the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is recognizing National Preparedness Month by offering various educational resources. This includes compiling an annual report detailing national fire trends and the resultant fatalities and property losses.
For its Survey for 2010 Fire Experience, the fire analysis and research division of the NFPA examined data from a sampling of 3,000 of the 30,170 public fire departments listed in its Fire Service Inventory (FSI). The findings indicated that the 1,331,500 fires attended by public fire departments in 2010 caused a total of $11,593,000,000 in property damage. For the purposes of its analysis, the NFPA explained that property damage refers to all forms of direct loss to contents, structure, machinery, a vehicle, vegetation, or anything else affected by the fire. Indirect losses, such as business interruption or temporary shelter expenses are not tallied.
The Midwest claimed the highest property loss rate of all regions, with $46.0 loss per capita. When compared to the previous year, the 2010 results pointed to a slight decrease of 1.3 percent in the number of blazes and a 7.5-percent drop in total property damages. The NFPA estimated that 482,000 of those blazes occurred in structures, of which 384,000 (or 80 percent) in residential properties. Structure fires caused $9,716,000,000 in property damage, a decrease of 10.4 percent from 2009. The average loss per structure fire was $20,158, which marked a 10.6-percent drop.
The NFPA also noted that fires and fire deaths have fallen since 1977, the first year of available data. The drop in population-based rates is even sharper, the company said. In 2010, home structure fires accounted for 28 percent of the reported fires. However, these incidents caused 85 percent of all civilian fire deaths. Vehicle fires accounted for 16 percent of the reported fires and 10 percent of the civilian fire deaths. Roughly half (48 percent) of the reported fires were outside or other non-structure, non-vehicle fires.
Excluding the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 the average loss per structure fire was $3,757 in 1977 and $20,158 in 2010for an overall increase of 436 percent during the 1977-2010 period. When property loss is adjusted for inflation, the increase in the average structure fire loss between 1977 and 2010 is 48 percent.
Arson declined somewhat in 2010: An estimated 27,500 intentionally set structure fires resulted in 200 civilian deaths and $585 million in property losses. In addition, 14,000 intentionally set vehicle fires occurred, causing $89 million in property damages.
Of course, property loss totals can change drastically from year to year because of the impact of occasional large-loss fires.