Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fire incidents increased during pandemic: StatsCan

By CFF Staff   

Headlines News data firefighting

June 12, 2023, Canada – Fire departments among seven reporting jurisdictions in Canada attended just over 39,000 fires in 2021, marking the second consecutive year of increases, Statistics Canada data shows. Both fires and the number of fatalities increased during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of deaths rising from 148 in 2019 to 202 in 2021. Prior to the pandemic, the total number of fire incidents had generally been declining.

The report from StatsCan also shows that compared with 2020, outdoor fires (excluding wildfires) increased by just over 2,700 incidents in 2021, becoming the most commonly reported type of fire for the first time ever. Outdoor fires likewise accounted for 45 per cent of all reported incidents. Examples of outdoor fires include open ground dumps, fences, and light ground cover.

Structural fires, which have historically been the most common type of fire in a given year, also increased, albeit to a lesser extent. Structural fires, of which seven in 10 were residential, accounted for 42 per cent of incidents in 2021.

An additional 13 per cent of fires were vehicle fires. In contrast to other types of fire, the number of vehicle fires declined by 273 incidents in 2021.

The National Fire Information Database (NFID) has reported that fire-related deaths rose by 34 per cent between 2019 and 2020 in British Columbia and Ontario, the highest number of fire-related deaths in more than 10 years. B.C.’s reported deaths nearly doubled from 28 to 54 while Ontario’s jumped 63 per cent in the first year of the pandemic, from 70 to 114.

The NFID states that between 2015 and 2021, 65 per cent of fire-related fatalities were men and 35 per cent were women. From 2020 to 2021, the number of fire-related fatalities increased by 15 per cent for men and dropped by 23 per cent for women.

Cooking equipment, smoker’s materials and open flames continue to be the leading causes of fire in residential fires. The NFID said those categories have consistently accounted for more than half of all residential fires that occurred from 2015 to 2021. While cooking was the leading cause of fire incidents (32 per cent) and injuries (43 per cent), smoker’s materials accounted for 64 per cent of residential fire-related deaths.

Among the 10,819 residential fires that occurred in 2021, there were 156 fatalities. Only 37 per cent of those fires had a working smoke alarm, while 12 per cent had smoke alarms that did not activate and 13 per cent had no smoke alarm installed.

Death rates were lower in homes with working smoke alarms, while those without an installed alarm accounted for nearly 74 per cent of deaths. Fire-related injuries were higher in homes with a working smoke alarm and no sprinkler protection than vice versa.

The NFID said certain types of actions can be associated with increased fire risk. For instance, behaviours like fatigue, suspected impairment, and distraction or preoccupation were associated with 20 per cent of residential fires, 20 per cent of injuries and 14 per cent of deaths in homes in 2021. Other associated factors were mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions and incendiary fires.

From 2015 to 2021, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, Yukon and the Canadian Armed Forces reported that 19 per cent (1,264) of the people who were injured in fire incidents were firefighters, accounting for nearly one in five people injured during a fire.

As for seniors, those aged 65 years and older have had the highest rates of fire-related deaths, a trend which has continued in recent years. The NFID said that during the first year of the pandemic, the rise in deaths doubled from the previous year, and was most visible among seniors living in New Brunswick, Ontario, British Columbia and Yukon.

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