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Sound the Alarm: Pants Do Catch Fire; CPSC Urges Seniors to Stay Vigilant About Clothing Fire Safety

Release Date: November 12, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Did you know that older Americans (over 65) are one of the groups at greatest risk of dying in a fire? Seniors are 16% of the population, but they account for 77% of the deaths from clothing fires.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) wants to sound the alarm on this sobering statistic, by reminding our senior community to stay vigilant about fire safety. 

“All clothing can burn,” says CPSC Acting Chairman Robert Adler. “And the loose clothing often favored by seniors can catch fire especially easily,” he added.

Whether it’s a dangling sleeve over the stove top, or food left unattended – cooking accidents are the leading cause of fires in the home. But you may be surprised to know that burning trash, grass and debris outdoors is also a leading cause of clothing fire injuries to seniors. Using space heaters improperly also tops the list. So, what is catching fire? The leading clothing item ignited and causing these injuries is pants, followed by shirts, night gowns and robes.  Here’s how the numbers break down.

CPSC estimates there were about 1,100 emergency room visits per year associated with senior clothing fire injuries from 2015 to 2019. This includes both fires in the home and outdoor fires. 

  • An estimated 22% of these injuries are from cooking fires;

  •  21% are from burning trash/grass/debris; and

  • 12% are from space heater fires. 

According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), there are an estimated annual average of 60 clothing fire deaths to seniors per year. Of these clothing fire deaths to senior citizens:

  • 24% are from “Range, Oven” fires;  

  • 23% are from smoking material-ignited fires; and

  • 11% are from heater fires.  

CPSC is releasing a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) to warn older consumers about this hazard, and to show how these types of fires can be prevented. 

The vast majority of these fires are highly preventable. Here’s how you can be fire safe:

  • All Clothing Burns: Keep all clothing away from flames and ignition sources. Loose clothing can catch fire easily. 

  • Cook with Care: Keep sleeves and dangling clothing components away from the cooktop.

  • Outdoor Fire Safety: When burning trash and yard debris, keep a safe distance from any outdoor fire, and keep lighter fluid off clothing. Follow CDC guidelines regarding outdoor burning during the COVID 19 pandemic.

  • Space Heater Safety: Loose pants and robes in close proximity to a space heater can catch fire. Space heaters need space.

  • If You Smoke: Smoking materials can ignite clothing. Don’t smoke while drowsy; safely extinguish smoking material.

  • Extra Precaution: Have a fire extinguisher nearby, and place working smoke alarms on every floor outside sleeping areas and inside bedrooms. 

If clothing does catch fire, according to the CDC and the National Fire Prevention Association, stop (don't run), drop and roll. Cover your face. Roll until the fire is out. If you're not able to drop, use something like a blanket to put out the flames. Run cool water on your burn until emergency responders arrive.


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About the U.S. CPSC
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

Federal law prohibits any person from selling products subject to a Commission ordered recall or a voluntary recall undertaken in consultation with the CPSC.

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