How COVID-19 fed an increase in home fires
Home fire numbers skyrocketed during lockdowns, with people spending more time than ever at home. But it’s not all bad news, writes Elke Boogert.
If you were someone who went from working from the office most of the time, to spending all day at home dialing into meetings because of the lockdown, you were not alone. Across the globe, COVID-19 lockdowns led to fewer people travelling to the workplace. One of the consequences was a reduction of road traffic accidents. Another is that the number of home fires rose substantially.
In the UK, the number of home fires between April and June 2020 – during the first national lockdown – peaked with over 7,000 reported fires. Fire departments in the Netherlands reported a bump of 2,000 fires compared to the year before. And in the first three months of 2021, America experienced 16% more home fires than during the same period in 2020, according to the Red Cross.
A majority of those fires was due to people being home; plugging in cables and chargers for their laptops, being distracted from cooking because their kids were also home, or folks remodeling their homes (or home offices).
However, there is a darker story to tell here. The US city of Seattle alone saw a 66% jump in fires – but in this case it was an increase in incendiary fires: intentionally set fires in places where you're not supposed to have fire. In fact, during the strictest lockdown, arson cases significantly increased. Experts believe there is likely an element of fraud contributing here, as well as a spike in individuals struggling with their mental health.
It’s not all bad news though. Across the board, fire departments and insurers reported less damage than might be expected. In the Netherlands, for example, the financial figure per fire went down from EUR 3,822 to EUR 3,377. Why? Because as it turns out, people who are home, are also more able to take action and try to control a fire. That limits the damages.
And now might be a good moment to review what's covered by your insurance! Stay safe, folks.
Some basic fire safety tips
- Don't leave electric devices endlessly charging as they can overheat.
- Don't use damaged devices, chargers or wires.
- Don't multitask between cooking in the kitchen and online meetings with colleagues. Turn off stoves and other kitchen appliances before diving back into work mode.
- Do install and maintain smoke detectors
- Do keep a fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket near at hand
- Do tackle a small spark or small flame. If it's already a blaze or there's a lot of smoke, get out, alert any neighbors and call the fire department.
What the experts say
COVID-19: A Guide to Fire Safety at Home (Firerite.co.uk)
Home Fire Safety (American Red Cross)
Tips en adviezen voor veilig thuiswerken (in Dutch)