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Furniture fires kill more in the home, says NFPA study

By David Reed, UT EditorQuincy, Massachusetts-“Upholstered furniture fires were associated with the most civilian deaths involving products in homes,” according to a report from the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Total civilian casualties in US home fires for the 1999-2002 period were 2948 deaths/year and 15 333 injuries/year, according to the report, titled ‘Products first ignited in US home fires.’ Upholstered furniture was the item first ignited in 990 home fires per year in the period, leading to over 560 deaths, 1100 injuries, and $281-millionworth of property damage, according to the fire statistics study, published in April. However, mattresses and bedding (taken together) were the item most often first ignited, the study said, adding that they were associated with the most product-related fire damage and injuries. All told, they led to 17 500 fires, 410 deaths, 1990 injuries, and $357-million property damage.Interestingly, more than a third of fires starting in furniture resulted from electrical faults or heat sources other than matches (ignoring unclassified causes), the NFPA study reported. A further 29 percent of fires starting in furniture were caused by discarded or abandoned smokers materials (to a significant proportion, cigarettes), even more were caused by sources unrelated to smoking including 18 percent by heat sources too close to the furniture, 10 percent by playing with heat sources, and 10 percent by electrical faults.The authors emphasise that the report “focuses on the roles of combustible products in a home as initial fuels in fires. Differences in how products burn-intensity of heat when fully involved (peak rate of heat release), rate of production of smoke or products of combustion (mass loss rate), quality of gases when produced (toxic potency), corrosiveness of smoke, and so forth-are beyond the scope of our databases, but may be important to a full hazard or risk analysis,” the report comments.Upholstered furniture, in particular, burns very rapidly and violently, the NFPA study says: “sofas offering cigarette fire-resistance only, reach heat emission rates of 1500 – 3000 kW within minutes of contact with a small flame.These latest USA figures confirm previous statistics showing that upholstered furniture is responsible for more than a third of fire deaths, the report concludes.An Executive Summary of the report, ‘Products first ignited in US home fires”, by K. Rohr, is publicly available at www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/ProductsExecSum.pdf”

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