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Notice to Readers National Fire Prevention Week -- October 5-11, 1997

October 5-11 is National Fire Prevention Week. In the United States, a national health objective for 2000 is to reduce residential fire-related deaths to no more than 1.2 per 100,000 persons (objective 9.6) (1). In 1995, the United States had the highest death rate from fires of all developed countries (1.7 per 100,000 persons). During 1995 (the most recent year for which data are available), residential fires accounted for 3640 deaths and 18,650 injuries (2; CDC, unpublished data, 1995). Persons at highest risk were less likely to reside in homes equipped with functional smoke detector units (e.g., residents of manufactured homes and rental properties, low income and elderly persons, and children aged less than 5 years).

Most residential fires are caused by cooking or heating equipment, spontaneous combustion, or conditions suggesting arson. However, residential fires in which a death occurs are often caused by smoking, heating equipment, or conditions suggesting arson. Rates for fire-related death are highest in southern states, where use of wood-burning stoves and portable space heaters is widespread. In addition, these devices often are improperly placed and/or left unattended.

Although equipping homes with smoke detectors and adhering to basic fire-safety practices are the best deterrents to residential fires, many persons do not take these precautions. In 1995, an estimated 93% of U.S. homes were equipped with a smoke detector, but only 74% of homes had a smoke detector unit that was functional (3,4). The annual number of residential fire-related deaths could be reduced if all homes were equipped with sufficient functional smoke detector units.

Deaths and injuries from residential fires can be prevented by

  1. installing a smoke detector on each habitable floor and one outside each bedroom; 2) replacing batteries in smoke detectors at least once a year; 3) designing and practicing a fire escape plan to ensure that exit from the home is quick and safe; 4) limiting use of heating devices (e.g., space heaters and wood-burning stoves) and, if using a heating device, carefully following manufacturer's operating guidelines; 5) keeping matches and lighters out of children's reach; and 6) not smoking.

Additional information about residential fire prevention is available from CDC's Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, telephone (770) 488-4652.


  1. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives -- full report, with commentary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91-50212.

  2. Karter MJ Jr. Fire loss in the United States during 1995. Quincy, Massachusetts: National Fire Protection Association, 1996.

  3. Hall JR. U.S. experience with smoke detectors. Quincy, Massachusetts: National Fire Protection Association, 1996.

  4. Smith CL. Smoke Detector Operability Survey: report on findings. Bethesda, Maryland: US Consumer Products Safety Commission, National Smoke Detector Project, 1994.

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