What is the prevalence of smoke inhalation injury from house fires?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021
  • Author: Keith A Lafferty, MD; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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A comprehensive study in Dallas, Texas looked at all house fires from 1991-1997. [32] Many of the findings parallel those of the New Jersey study. Relative risk of injury was 1.8 for men, 1.4 for boys, 2.8 for blacks, and 2.6 for elderly persons. In addition, among the injured, the proportion of injuries that were fatal was higher in persons older than 65 years (53%) and in those younger than 10 years (67%) compared with those aged 10-64 years (30%).

The lowest income tracts had the highest rate of injury. The rate of injury in households with a median income below $20,000 per year was 8 times that of tracts with a median income greater than $80,000 per year. In fact, tracts with extremely low incomes, less than $10,000 per year, had rates of injury 20 times that of the above.

Houses built in the 1950s and 1960s were somewhat more likely to burn than houses built before this time. This may be a case of "selection of the fittest" houses, with those houses most prone to burn having already done so, leaving the most structurally sound ones still standing.

Fires caused by arson occurred predominately in census tracts with lower median incomes. Eighty percent of fires occurred in homes with median incomes of less than $40,000 per year.

Causes of the house fires were as follows:

  • Arson (25.5%)

  • Electrical wiring/equipment (16.6%)

  • Heating equipment (15.8%)

  • Cooking (11.4%)

  • Smoking (5.5%)

  • Children playing with fire (4.5%)

  • Unknown/other (20.6%)

The rate of fire-related injury in houses in Dallas without a functioning smoke detector was 8.7 times that of homes with functioning smoke detectors. Houses that are most likely to have fires were least likely to have functioning smoke detectors. As a result of this study, a program in Dallas now provides and installs smoke detectors in census tracts with the highest rates of injuries and deaths related to house fires. [32]

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