Arson attacks reach record level but fire deaths fall: Rise in smoke alarms given some of the credit for lowest fatality figures for 25 years

FIRE DEATHS have fallen to their lowest level for 25 years despite a record number of arson attacks and domestic blazes, it was announced yesterday.

The improved survival rate is due, partly, to the growing number of people who own a smoke alarm - up from 9 per cent in 1987 to 74 per cent in 1992, according to the latest statistics.

In 1992, 807 people died in fires - the lowest figure since 1967. The deaths, and the 14,700 fire-related injuries, were mostly caused by people being overcome by gas or smoke. The importance of smoke alarms is reflected in statistics which show that deaths were almost four times more likely in homes where no devices were fitted and maintained. However, only 7 per cent of blazes in occupied buildings are detected by smoke alarms.

The most common cause of accidental fires remained the misuse of household appliances, particularly cookers, which were the cause of half of the blazes. Cigarettes were the single most common cause of a fire resulting in death.

About three in four deaths and casualties occur in domestic fires.

Arson attacks trebled from 157,000 in 1982 to 525,000 in 1992. More than half of all the fires in schools, construction industry premises, private garages and recreational buildings were started deliberately.

In addition, there were about 41,000 arson attacks on vehicles - a 24 per cent increase on 1991. The number of car fires in 1992 reached a record high of 65,400, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year.

False alarms continued to rise, totalling almost half a million in 1992. In most cases, people acted with good intentions but, in some areas of the country, malicious calls were up to about 60 per cent.

Releasing the United Kingdom fire statistics for 1992, Charles Wardle, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, said: 'Fire continues to devastate lives and businesses. Its costs cannot just be gauged in money alone, but in lives lost, homes lost and jobs lost.'

He attributed the increase in the number of smoke alarms to the Home Office's campaign to get alarms installed in 70 per cent of homes by 1994.

'Smoke alarms can buy those extra minutes - or seconds - which will let people escape the flames and smoke,' he said.

The figures showed that fire brigades attended 426,000 fires in 1992, 107,400 of them in occupied buildings.

(Graphic omitted)