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Older people, men and those in rural areas at higher risk of dying in residential fires, report finds

The Health Research Board found there were 101 fires recorded in closed inquest cases between 2014-2016.

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Image: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

OLDER PEOPLE, SINGLE people, men and those living in rural areas are at higher risk of dying in residential fires, according to new research. 

The Health Research Board has found that there were 101 fires with 106 fire-related fatalities recorded in closed inquest cases between 2014 and 2016. 

This is the first time that data in relation to fire fatalities from all coroner sites in Ireland has been analysed.

The research found that older people (aged 65 years and up) are over-represented among fire fatalities in Ireland. 

More than one in every two people who died were aged 65 or older, despite this group comprising one in five of the population in Ireland.

More males (69) died as a result of fires than females (37).

The research also found that 80 of the fatalities were single people (separated, divorced or widowed). 

The occupation was known for 67 of the fatalities. Of these, farmers and agricultural workers were overrepresented, accounting for one in five deaths, despite census data showing three in every hundred people were farmers or agricultural workers.

Fire circumstances

The research found that almost all fires (92) happened in a private dwelling. 

Of the 101 fatal fires, there was an even geographical spread.

However, more than half (57) occurred in a rural setting and the remainder (44) in an urban location. Given just over one in three people live in rural area, this group are over-represented, the research said. 

The majority of those who died (73) were alone at the time of the fire.

Most fires started in the living room followed by bedroom and kitchen.

The most common time for fires occurring were midnight through to 1.59am.

Most fatal fires occurred over the weekend. Fridays and Sundays (16 each) were the most common days followed by Thursdays and Saturdays (14 each).

More fatal fires occurred during winter months with the highest number occurring during the month of November (13).

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Toxicology reports were available for the majority of those who died (91) due to fires during the period examined. 

Just over half of people who died in fires had alcohol in their blood.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of this group had a blood alcohol concentration of 160 mg/100ml (more than three times the legal driving limit) at which stage balance, coordination and possible loss of consciousness reduce ability to respond to fire, the research said. 

54 of those with alcohol recorded on their blood were 65 years of age or older.

Of the 46 people with drugs in their blood, two in three had more than one drug listed.

After alcohol, the most common drugs present were antidepressants, followed by benzodiazepines, non-opioid analgesics and hypnotics.

The research paper – Profile of fire fatalities in Ireland using coronial data – has been published in the Fire Safety Journal.

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