How many fires start from smoking?

watervliet apartment fire

A fire in Watervliet has left the residents of three apartment buildings without a place to live and without most of their possessions. The fire chief tells NEWS10 that the fire was preventable and was the result of a lit cigarette. (NEWS10)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- A fire in a Watervliet apartment building started when a resident attempted to throw out a lit cigarette which instead ended up in a pet bed. The fire displaced approximately 20 people.

Although the percentage of adults who smoke has decreased by about half, residential fires from smoking were the leading cause of home fire deaths between 2012-2016 in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

In that five-year period, on average 590 people died yearly in home fires that were started by smoking materials, based on an NFPA report released in January 2019. Another 1,130 people were injured.

A yearly average of 18,100 structure fires from smoking was also reported during that time, causing a total of $2.38 billion in property damage or $476 million annually.

One out of four fatal victims of smoking-material fires is not the smoker whose cigarette started the fire.


Between 1980-1984 the highest percentage of home fires from smoking occurred in a bedroom, 39%. The second-highest percentage of home fires caused by smoking was in living rooms, 28%. Smoking fires that started on a balcony or unenclosed porch made up only 1%.

This was significantly different from 2012-2016. The highest percentage of home fires from smoking started on an exterior balcony or unenclosed porch, 18%. While the second-highest percentage of smoking-related fires began in a bedroom, 15%.

Origin of home fires from smoking materials 2012-2016

Exterior balcony/unenclosed porch18%
Living room7%
Courtyard, terrace, or patio6%
Unclassified outside area6%
Exterior wall surface5%
Kitchen or cooking area5%
Garage or vehicle storage area4%
Bathroom or lavatory4%
Exterior stairs4%
Trash, or rubbish chute, area, or container4%

Origin of home fires from smoking materials 1980-1984

Exterior balcony/unenclosed porch1%
Living room28%
Courtyard, terrace, or patio0%
Unclassified outside area0%
Exterior wall surface1%
Kitchen or cooking area7%
Garage or vehicle storage area2%
Bathroom or lavatory3%
Exterior stairs0%
Trash, or rubbish chute, area, or container3%

An increase in smoking fires that started outside of homes was a trend seen in 2012-2016 compared to 1980-1984. From 2012-2016 smoking fires that started in a courtyard, terrace, patio, outside are or exterior stairs made up a combined 16%. The percentage from 1980-1984 was zero.

To prevent a fire like the one that happened in Watervliet, the United States Fire Administration suggests:

  • Smoking outside
  • Putting cigarettes out entirely all the time
  • Avoid smoking when taking medication that can cause drowsiness
  • Avoid smoking around medical oxygen
  • Avoid smoking in bed
  • Use an ashtray or bucket with sand to put cigarettes out.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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