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From 2007 to 2009, an estimated 3,800 university housing fires occurred annually in the United States. According to a report published by FEMA in 2011, these fires accounted for approximately once percent of residential building fires responded to across the nation, and resulted in a yearly average of 25 injuries and $9 million in property loss.

FEMA’s report addresses the characteristics of university housing fires reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) between 2007 and 2009. University housing fires are considered to be fires in college and university residential buildings, including dormitories as well as fraternity and sorority houses.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports an increase in dormitory and university housing fires in recent years, with the average increasing from 1,800 per year in the late 1990s to 3,300 per year in 2005.

According to CPCS, this is in part because students are increasingly bringing items from home to make their college stays more comfortable – specifically high-powered electronic equipment and appliances. This equipment can be dangerous when used improperly or left unsupervised, especially in dormitory rooms.

Fires are more common during the evening hours and weekends when most students are in the residence halls. Most of the fires are cooking-related (hot plates, microwaves, portable grills, etc.), however the majority of deaths occur in bedrooms.  

Types of Fires

Building fires consist of two major categories of incidents: fires that are confined to specific types of equipment or objects (confined fires) and those that are not (nonconfined fires). Confined building fires are small fire incidents that are limited in scope, confined to noncombustible containers, rarely result in serious injury or large content losses, and expected to have no significant accompanying property losses due to flame damage.  

Eighty-four percent of university housing fires are confined fires.


University housing fires have become the focus of increased attention within the State and Federal governments, local and State fire departments, affected neighborhoods and communities, and the criminal justice system. This is largely because they account for and cause injuries and deaths as well as property damage. An estimated 3,800 university housing fires occur each year in the United States. The challenge for communities and the fire service is to pinpoint the reasons why university housing fires occur and to address these issues to prevent future fires, deaths, injuries, and severe property damage. Providing students with fire safety education upon their arrival to the universities may help increase awareness and prevent fires.