Federal safety officials warn senior citizens they face an increased risk of clothing fires, after new data indicates Americans over 65 years of age account for nearly 80% of all deaths that occur after clothing caught on fire.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on November 12, warning that each year approximately 1,100 seniors are treated in emergency rooms for burn injuries arising from articles of clothing catching on fire while performing routine activities near an open flame.
According to data collected by the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), approximately 60 senior citizens are killed annually by severe burn injuries arising from clothing fire incidents, accounting for 77% of clothing fire fatalities.
From 2015 to 2019, roughly 1,100 senior citizens were treated at emergency departments each year as a result of a piece of clothing catching on fire. Of those injuries, 22% were caused by cooking fires, 21% from burning trash, grass, or debris, and 12% are from space heater fires. On average, 60 senior citizen died as a result of the burn injuries with 24% caused by an article of clothing catching on fire when cooking on a range, or oven fire, 23% from smoking material-ignited fires, and 11% from heater fires.
Clothing fires are almost always preventable, and are commonly caused by loose or dangling clothing accidentally coming in contact with an open flame from appliances such as a range, oven, or wood burning fireplace.
“All clothing can burn,” CPSC Acting Chairman Robert Adler said in the PSA. “And the loose clothing often favored by seniors can catch fire especially easily.”
As the holiday season approaches, with many Americans resorting to cooking Thanksgiving dinner at home this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, officials have released a series of safety recommendations to prevent these tragic incidents from occurring.
The CPSC advises never wear loose clothing while cooking and to always keep sleeves and dangling clothing components away from the cooktop. Those using space heaters or open flame heat sources, such as wood burning stoves, should remain vigilant of loose pants or robes coming in close proximity of the flame.
The safety officials recommend always keeping a working fire extinguisher and placing working smoke alarms on every floor, outside of sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms.
Outdoor fire safety precautions should always be taken when burning yard debris such as keeping a safe distance from outdoor fires and keeping lighter fluid off clothing.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported in July that U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 172,900 home structure fires per year started by cooking activities between 2014 and 2018, causing 550 civilian deaths, 4,820 reported civilian fire injuries, and more than $1 billion in direct property damage per year.
House fire incidents were found to peak each year during the Thanksgiving and Christmas timeframes, and in 2018, fire departments responded to an average of 470 home cooking fires per day, with ranges or cooktops being involved in 87% of cooking fire deaths and 78% of cooking fire injuries.