A big apartment fire in Colorado Springs today got me thinking about the risk presented by residential fires.
The risk is declining. In 2005, there were 396,000 fires in residential structures identified by national statistics, causing 3,055 deaths, 13,825 injuries, and $6.875 billion in property damage. Residential structures for this purpose include one-family and two-family dwellings (including manufactured homes), apartments, hotels, motels, college dormitories, boarding houses, etc.
This is the lowest toll in the period from 1996 to 2005 and the culmination of a trend. In 1996, the worst year in that time period, there were 428,000 residential fires, causing 4,080 deaths, 19,300 injuries and $4.962 billion in property damage (in part a function of lower housing prices then).
Residential fires accounted for approximately 83 percent of all fire deaths and 77 percent of the injuries to civilians from fires in 2005.
Fewer than 15 deaths a year on average are in dormitories, fraternities and sororities.
In 2000, about 82% of residential fire deaths were in single family homes or duplexes, while 16% were in apartment buildings, and 2% were in other residential structures.
According to the Census Bureau, there were about 109 million occupied housing units (apartments, condos, homes, etc.) in the United States in 2005, and the mix doesn't change rapidly from year to year, and a little less than 26 million of them are in multifamily housing structures (including two family structures that are not "single family attached"). Thus, about 24% of occupied housing units are apartments (or in condominium complexes). Owner occupied housing units (overwhelmingly, but not entirely single family homes and duplexes) average 2.7 persons per housing unit. Rental housing units (disproportionately apartments) average 2.39 persons per housing unit. Using those figures to make an estimate, roughly 22% of people live in multi-family housing.
Bottom line: your risk of death from residential fires is slightly lower in an apartment building than it is in a single family home.