Causes of Campus and Off-Campus Housing Fires

August 1, 2012

Each year college and university students, on- and off-campus, experience hundreds of fire-related emergencies nationwide.

There are several specific causes for fires on college campuses, including cooking, intentionally set fires and open flame. Overall, most college-related fires are due to a general lack of knowledge about fire safety and prevention, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

For most students, the last fire safety training they received was in grade school, but with new independence comes new responsibilities.

In cases where fire fatalities have occurred on college campuses, alcohol was a factor. There is a strong link between alcohol and fire deaths. Alcohol abuse often impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts.

Many other factors contribute to the problem of dormitory housing fires including:

  • Improper use of 911 notification systems delays emergency response.
  • Student apathy is prevalent. Many are unaware that fire is a risk or threat in the environment.
  • Evacuation efforts are hindered since fire alarms are often ignored.
  • Building evacuations are delayed due to lack of preparation and pre-planning.
  • Vandalized and improperly maintained smoke alarms and fire alarm systems inhibit early detection of fires.
  • Misuse of cooking appliances, overloaded electrical circuits, and extension cords increase the risk of fires.
Off-Campus Fire Safety

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are approximately 18,000,000 students enrolled in 4,100 colleges and universities across the country. Approximately two-thirds of the students live in off-campus housing.

There are five common factors in a number of these fires:

  • Lack of automatic fire sprinklers
  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Impaired judgment from alcohol consumption
  • Upholstered furniture fires on decks and porches
Campus-Related Fire Fatalities from January 2000 to Present

79 fatal fires have been documented that occurred on a college campus, in Greek housing or in off-campus housing within 3-miles of the campus – claiming a total of 114 victims.

» 66 fires have occurred in off-campus housing claiming 95 victims

» 7 fires have occurred in on-campus building or residence halls claiming 9 victims

» 6 fires have occurred in Greek housing claiming 10 victims

Of the 79 fires documented:

» 14 were intentionally set claiming 22 victims

» 35 were accidental – includes cooking, candles, smoking or electrical claiming 47 victims

» 30 of the fires the cause was never determined – or the cause was not available at press time. These fires claimed 45 victims.

Source: Campus-Firewatch, The Center for Campus Fire Safety, U.S. Fire Administration

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