U.S. Structure Fires in Office Properties

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Report: NFPA's "U.S. Structure Fires in Office Properties"
Author: Richard Campbell
Issued: August 2013

An overview of office property fires, including trend tables, causes, time of day, day of week, month of year, and area of origin. Also includes previously published incident descriptions.

Executive Summary

This report contains information about structure fires in office properties, which include general business offices, banks, veterinary or research offices, engineering, mailing firms and post offices. During the five-year period of 2007-2011, NFPA estimates that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 3,340 fires in office properties per year. These fires caused an annual average of four civilian deaths, 44 civilian fire injuries, and $112 million in direct property damage. The vast majority of the fires in this category were in business offices. Reported fires in this occupancy group fell 71% from 10,570 in 1980 to 3,050 in 2011.

Fewer fires occur in this occupancy on the weekends since they are less likely to be fully populated. The peak times of day for these fires were between noon and 2:00 PM. Less than one-third of the fires (31%) occurred between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., but these fires accounted for 67% of the direct property damage. Similarly, 19% of fires occurred on weekends, but these incidents caused 31% of the associated property loss. These findings highlight the need for automatic detection and extinguishing equipment to protect these properties when they aren’t occupied.

More than one in every four office property fires (29%) was caused by cooking equipment, but these fires accounted for just 6% of the direct property damage experienced by office properties. Fires that were intentionally set caused the largest share of direct property damage (20%), while causing 10% of office property fires. Electrical distribution and lighting equipment was the second leading cause of office property fires (12%) of fires, while causing 15% of direct property damage

Just over one-fifth (22%) of the reported fires in office properties began in the kitchen or cooking area, causing one percent of the direct property damage. The highest share of direct property damage (24% of total) resulted from fires starting in an office, which were the cause of 12% of office property fires. Although just two percent of office fires began in the attic, ceiling/roof assembly or concealed space, they were responsible for 13% of the direct property damage. Four out of five office property fires were confined to the room of origin.

When present, wet pipe sprinklers operated 90% of the time in fires large enough to activate the equipment, and they were effective in 88% of these fires. Deaths per 1,000 fires were 62% lower in stores and offices equipped with wet pipe sprinklers compared to properties with no automatic extinguishing equipment.

Individuals interested in keeping offices safe from fire should consult NFPA 101, Life Safety Code® or NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code® for information about fire prevention in these properties. 

Structure fires in office properties