The number of catastrophic multiple-death fires surged in 2016, according to a new report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Both the number of these fires and the deaths resulting from them were higher in 2016 than in 2015 which had the lowest number of each ever reported.
The NFPA compiles an annual report on catastrophic multiple-death fires, or fires that caused the most severe loss-of-life in the United States. As defined in the report, these fires cause five or more deaths in residences, three or more deaths in other structures and three or more deaths in non-structure fires, such as vehicle fires or wildfires.
One fire this year, 2017, resulted in the deaths of 5 children and 2 adults.
In 2016, 21 catastrophic multiple-death fires resulted in 160 fatalities including 13 children under the age of six. In 2015, 42 deaths from nine such fires were reported. Among the fatalities were four children under the age of six.
Non-structure fires were more deadly in 2016 than in 2015. Last year, two such fires killed 30 people, compared with 11 deaths from three such fires n 2015. During both years, roughly half of these fires occurred in residential settings. Eleven of the 21 fires that occurred in 2016 were residential. They resulted in 65 deaths, including 12 children under the age of six. In 2015, four residential fires resulted in 23 deaths, including four children under the age of six.
The causes of these fires include natural gas explosion, electrical failure, improper disposal of smoking materials, embers escaping a fire and faulty installation of a wood-burning heater.
In 2015, two non-residential structure fires resulted in eight deaths. In 2016, There were eight nonresidential structure fires in 2016 that killed 65 people, including one child under the age of six. Among these catastrophic events was the Ghost Ship fire in December 2016, where 36 people attending a party in an Oakland, California, warehouse perished.
The building was permitted as a warehouse, but the main floor was a labyrinth of makeshift artist studios making a quick escape difficult, according to fire officials. In addition, the sole staircase to the second floor where the party took place, fashioned from wooden pallets, was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. There were no fire sprinklers.
In the last 50 years, there have been 12 structure fires that killed 36 or more people. Prior to the Ghost Ship, the last one occurred in 2003 at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island, where 100 people died.