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Data Snapshot: Playground Fires (2011-2013)

For each year from 2011 to 2013, an estimated 4,900 playground fires1 were reported to fire departments in the United States — many of these very preventable.

By maintaining playground areas — including keeping rubbish and dead leaves/grass to a minimum, as well as being careful with items related to smoking — we can limit these fires in the future, creating a safer environment for all of us to enjoy.

Fires originating in playgrounds accounted for the second most reported incidents in the category of assembly area, under the broader descriptor, property use.2

Loss measures for playground and nonplayground fires (three-year average, 2011-2013)

Playground fires comprised about four out of 1,000 fires reported to fire departments per year causing on average zero deaths, less than five injuries, and $5 million in property loss. These fires showed average losses per fire well below national averages — 0.5 injuries per 1,000 fires and $1,070 loss per fire.3 Source: National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) 5.0.

Loss measurePlayground firesNonplayground fires
Fatalities/1,000 fires
Injuries/1,000 fires
Dollar loss/fire

Table notes:

  1. Average loss for fatalities and injuries is computed per 1,000 fires. Average dollar loss is computed per fire and rounded to the nearest $10.
  2. No playground fire deaths were reported to NFIRS from 2011-2013.
  3. The 2011 and 2012 dollar-loss values were adjusted to 2013 dollars.

Incident type — playground fires (2011-2013)

More than half (54 percent) of playground fires involved rubbish or trash — whether or not contained in a trash can or dumpster. Grass/Vegetation fires accounted for an additional quarter (25 percent) of playground fires, including brush, grass and other natural vegetation. Other fires (21 percent) include fires in all other categories, such as outside equipment, passenger vehicles, and structures other than a building. Source: NFIRS 5.0.

Sources of heat in grass/vegetation playground fires by major category (2011-2013)

The leading heat source for grass/vegetation playground fires was heat from open flame or smoking materials (42 percent), followed by hot or smoldering object (24 percent). Taken together, smoking items — including cigarettes, cigarette lighters and matches — and hot or smoldering objects — including hot ember or ash — accounted for about two-thirds of grass/vegetation playground fires. Cigarettes were the leading specific heat source accounting for 16 percent of all grass/vegetation playground fires. Source: NFIRS 5.0.

  Percent of grass/vegetation playground fires with heat source determined     Percent of grass/vegetation playground fires

Heat from open flame or smoking materials


Hot or smoldering object


Explosive, fireworks


Chemical, natural heat sources


Other heat source


Heat spread from another fire


Heat from powered equipment


Multiple heat sources including multiple ignitions




Chart notes:

  1. Heat source is not regularly reported for rubbish fires.
  2. Total percent of grass/vegetation fires with heat source determined does not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

Playground fires by time of alarm (2011-2013)

Playground fires occurred most frequently from 3 to 10 p.m., accounting for 55 percent of the fires. Fires then declined throughout the late night reaching the lowest point during the early morning hours (from 3 to 6 a.m.). This is as we would expect to see; fires increase during the times that people gather at playgrounds, enjoying the facilities and each other. Source: NFIRS 5.0.

Chart note: Total does not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

Playground fires by month (2011-2013)

Playground fires were most prevalent during the summer months, June through August with a substantial peak in July. Likewise, they bottomed out from December through February, with a low in February. Combined with the time of alarm chart, we see increased incidence associated with summer evening hours. Source: NFIRS 5.0.

Chart note: Total does not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

Sources: NFIRS and the National Fire Protection Association.


  1. Playground fires are defined as NFIRS Property Use 124 (playground or outdoor area with fixed recreational equipment) and Incident Types 100-173 (all fires excluding Incident Type 110). Aid Types 3 (mutual aid given) and 4 (automatic aid given) were excluded to avoid double counting of incidents.
  2. The leading entry in the assembly area category under the property use descriptor is restaurant/cafeteria fires.
  3. The average loss measures computed from the NFIRS data alone in the loss measures table will differ from the average loss measures computed from national estimates.

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