194,000 Highway Vehicle Fires Occurring Annually, USFA Reports

These fires represent one in every seven fires to which U.S. fire departments respond and do not include tens of thousands of highway vehicle accident responses.

A new report from the U.S. Fire Administration estimates 194,000 highway vehicle fires occurred annually from 2008 to 2010, causing an average of 300 deaths, 1,250 injuries, and $1.1 billion in property loss per year. The average number of fatalities per 1,000 fires was higher in highway vehicle fires, at 2.3, than for all other types of fires, at 2.0. However, the average dollar loss and average injuries per fire were lower for highway vehicle fires than for other types.

Less than 1 percent of all highway vehicle fires in 2008-2010 were fatal. Fatal highway vehicle fires mainly occur between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., but overall highway vehicle fires occur mainly in late afternoon – 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Another significant difference: Collisions contributed to the ignition in just 4 percent all overall highway vehicle fires, but collisions were responsible for 57 percent of fatal highway vehicle fires during the period.

The report says 86 percent of highway vehicle fires during these years involved passenger vehicles, and less than 1 percent involved buses.

The insulation around electrical wiring or other cables was the most common specific item to be initially ignited. "Interestingly, while it is often assumed that vehicle fires commonly originate with the tires of the vehicle, tires were the first item ignited in only 4 percent of all highway vehicle fires," it states.

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    September 2020

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