Under Fire

The focus on security at our nation's schools and universities continues to intensify as both old and new threats challenge administrators in how they plan and prepare for the safety of students, staff and facilities.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a special report exploring the causes and characteristics of school fires. The report examines all school fires in 2002, including those occurring outdoors on school property, and provides valuable data for administrators. Among the findings:

  • There were an estimated 14,300 school fires (indoor and outdoor) at the nation's schools.

  • 6,000 of these were school-structure fires.

  • 37 percent of all school-structure fires were caused by incendiary or suspicious activity.

  • 52 percent of all middle- and high-school-structure fires were caused by incendiary or suspicious activity.

  • $103.6 million in property damage was caused as a result of school fires.

  • 122 injuries resulted from school fires.

The report states that although fatalities from school fires are rare (there were none reported in 2002), injuries per fire were higher in school-structure fires than non-residential-structure fires. Of particular note, the school restroom was where the majority of school fires start — and fire activity increased at the beginning and end of the academic year.

In addition, 78 percent of school fires occur during the school week and 22 percent on weekends. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. are when most fires happen (55 percent), followed by 5 p.m. until midnight (30 percent) and midnight until 8 a.m. (15 percent).

And while the report does state that “prevention and awareness are the key factors in mitigating school fires” and “school fires are largely preventable through community prevention, outreach and student supervision,” administrators still must take precautions. One way is to ensure the materials and products being specified have superior fire ratings — especially in restrooms, which typically are “ground zero” for school fires.

For a copy of the full report, visit http://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/reports/pubs/tfrs.shtm.



Number of school fires, structural and those occurring outdoors, reported in the United States.


Number of school-structure fires reported in the United States.


Amount, in millions, in property damage due to fires at the nation's schools.


Number of injuries reported due to school fires.


Percent of all school-structure fires that were caused by incendiary or suspicious activity.


Percent of middle- and high-school-structure fires that were caused by incendiary or suspicious activity.

Source: FEMA, “School Fires” report, data from 2002.

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