Release date: October 1, 1975
Release number: 75-063

Release Details

The Commission estimates that thousands of children and adults are injured each year in household fires.

Aluminum Wiring

The Commission has received a number of reports of fire incidents and electrical failures allegedly associated with aluminum wiring installed in homes and mobile homes in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Warning signals of possible aluminum wire problems include: warm face plates, flickering lights, burning smells, or sparking or arcing.

According to Commission staff, residents of homes wired with aluminum in the late 1960s and early 1970s who experience these danger signals should contact a knowledgeable electrician immediately and have the house wiring checked for loosening or overheating connections. If it is necessary to install new switches or receptacles, replacement should be with devices designed for use with aluminum wiring. Consumers should not attempt to check or correct these problems themselves.

Appliances

A nationwide survey of 33,856 households, conducted last year for the agency by the Bureau of the Census, indicated there were a projected 5.6 million household and household property fire incidents in a one-year period, involving 169,000 injuries. Fire was given a broad definition in the survey and included smoke, sparks or flames.

Two-thirds of the fire incidents reported in the survey were cited as appliance-associated.

Stoves, ovens and ranges were reportedly involved in an estimated 2.3 million incidents. Grease or foods were said to have ignited in 80 percent of the cases; other fires were attributed to ignition of nearby items such as dishtowels, pot holders and curtains.

Other appliances reportedly involved in numerous fire incidents included: televisions, 196,000 incidents (primarily internal smoking, sparking or flames); toasters, 142,000 incidents (emission of smoke and flames): clothes dryers, 106,000 incidents (internal smoking or flames).

Flammable Fabrics

Severe injuries frequently result from ignition of clothing. In 1974, about 2,300 persons required hospital emergency room treatment for burns sustained when their clothing caught fire. The Commission has received more than 400 death certificates over the past two years for fatalities associated with fabric ignition.

A recent study of fabric ignition cases collected since 1967 found that children and the elderly were the primary victims of clothing ignition deaths and injuries. Sleepwear, including pajamas, gowns and robes, was worn in more than half of the accidents involving children through the age of 12 and persons over 66. Girls and women who were wearing nightgowns endured the most severe injuries.

For all age groups, shirts and blouses were the most frequent garments ignited.

Kitchen ranges were the major ignition source for women, particularly elderly women wearing gowns and robes. The majority were reaching across or over or leaning against the range when their clothing caught fire.

Elderly men were injured most frequently in accidents involving matches and lighters. Matches also were the major source in the ignition of children's clothing.

The analysis revealed that young children tend to run when their clothing ignites and that many elderly persons try to beat the flames with their hands. Both of these reactions tend to maximize the severity of the burn injury, primarily because they represent ineffective methods of squelching the fire.

Research at the National Bureau of Standards has shown that initial reactions are important in reducing the severity b of burns: children should be taught to roll on the ground to extinguish flames; adults should rip clothing from their bodies or roll on the ground.

Federal law now requires the manufacture of flame-resistant sleepwear for children up to size 14. Some manufacturers and retailers are voluntarily introducing flame-resistant sleepwear for adults and flame-resistant day wear as well.

A mandatory safety standard for matches will be proposed for public comment sometime this year, and the Commission is considering the possibility of need for standards for certain categories of wearing apparel, such as women's nightgowns and children's day wear.

Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture, sofas and chairs, also can contribute to serious household fires, primarily due to cigarette ignition, says a Commission expert on flammability. The cigarette can ignite the upholstery fabric and filling materials which can smolder for hours even though it might appear that the fire is out. The smoldering material can generate toxic fumes and may also eventually lead to ignition of other items in the room.

Commission injury data show that the elderly and handicapped frequently are involved in upholstered furniture fires when they fall asleep and drop cigarettes on the furniture. There also appears to be a relationship between the consumption of alcoholic beverages and fire incidents.

Aerosols And Flammable Liquids

The Commission maintains an injury surveillance desk which monitors newspapers across the country and collects injury reports from many sources including consumer letters. The injury surveillance desk reports that aerosols, such as oven cleaners and hair sprays, have been involved in a number of fires and explosions when exposed to heat or flame sources. Some consumers do not realize that many aerosols are highly flammable and when sprayed can be ignited by a cigarette or even heat from a stove.

The injury surveillance desk also has received many reports of injuries due to vapor ignition: paint thinner ignited by a dryer pilot light: gasoline ignited from a water heater pilot light: varnish ignited by a cigarette.

Consumers should be especially careful not to use or store gasoline or other flammable liquids in unventilated areas or near any sources of fire, including pilot lights, which are often overlooked as potential ignition sources.

Smoke Detectors

A fact sheet issued by the Commission suggests that smoke detection devices placed in a hall or outside bedroom doors can be helpful in providing early warning signals to enable occupants to escape a household fire.

The fact sheet covers two types of smoke detectors on the market today, ion chamber detectors and photoelectric detectors, and offers some tips on selection, installation and maintenance.

The Commission has published many other fact sheets and brochures to assist consumers in becoming aware of product-associated hazards. These materials are available at no cost by calling the toll-free hotline: 800/638-2772.

Media Contact

Please use the below phone number for all media requests.

Phone: (301) 504-7908
Spanish: (301) 504-7800

View CPSC contacts for specific areas of expertise