U.S. Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties

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Report: NFPA's "U.S. Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties"
Author: Richard Campbell
Issued: June 2013

Religious and funeral properties include churches, temples, mosques, religious education facilities, funeral parlors and related properties.

Executive Summary

From 2007 to 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 1,780 structure fires in religious and funeral properties each year.  NFPA estimates that these fires resulted in an annual average of two civilian fatalities, 19 civilian injuries, and $111 million in direct property damage. The largest share of fires involved religious properties, with just four percent taking place in funeral parlors. Since 1980, the average number of reported fires in religious and funeral properties has fallen by 54%, from 3,500 per year to 1,660 in 2011. 

Religious properties are used for a variety of purposes besides worship. Many religious properties also have office space and kitchen facilities. Halls or function rooms may also host meals, community meetings, celebrations, or other events. They may also provide religious education.  Sunday was the peak day for fires in religious and funeral properties, with Saturday ranking second.  However, as might be expected, these results reflect the predominance of religious over funeral properties in the analysis. When analyzed separately, the peak days for fires in funeral properties Tuesday and Friday, with the fewest fires on Sunday and the second fewest on Saturday.

Almost one-third of the fires in religious and funeral properties were caused by cooking equipment (30%). Heating equipment and intentionally set fires each accounted for 16% of the fires.  Electrical distribution or lighting equipment caused 10% of fires, while lightning and candles each caused four percent of the fires.

Nearly one-quarter (23%) of fires in religious and funeral properties began in the kitchen or cooking area. Heating equipment rooms, with seven percent of the total, represented the second most common area of fire origin, followed by small assembly area, unclassified outside area, and attic, ceiling/roof assembly, each of which accounted for four percent of total fires. 

Sprinklers were present in only 12% of these fires in 2007-2011.  The average loss per fire when no automatic extinguishing equipment was present was $67,000. The average loss per fire dropped to $18,000 when wet pipe sprinklers were present, 73% lower than when no automatic suppression equipment was present.

Comprehensive safety information for reducing the risk of fire and promoting fire safety in buildings of all types is available in NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. Individuals interested in keeping religious properties safe from fire may additionally consult NFPA 909: Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship for information about fire prevention in these properties.