Farmers and those living in rural areas are at a higher risk of dying in residential fires, according to the first ever research paper by the Health Research Board (HRB) on fire deaths.

Other higher-risk categories include older people and single people, the research found. In addition, alcohol is a factor in more than half of fatal fires in Ireland.

There were 101 fires with 106 fire-related fatalities recorded in closed inquest cases between 2014-2016. This new research examines the circumstances around the deaths.

According to the study, farmers and agricultural workers were “over-represented” – accounting for one in five deaths of those whose occupations were known.

Other key findings revealed that older people, aged 65 years or older, are also over-represented among fire fatalities in Ireland.

More than one in every two people who died were aged 65 or older (55) despite this group comprising one in five of the population in Ireland.

In addition, more males (69) died as a result of fires than females (37), while 80 of the fatalities were single persons, including separated, divorced and widowed.

The report highlighted that the occupation was known for 67 of the fatalities; of these farmers and agricultural workers were “over-represented accounting for one in five deaths – despite census data showing three in every 100 people were farmers or agricultural workers”.

Toxicology reports were available for 91 cases – the majority of those who died due to fires. Just over half of people who died in fires had alcohol in their blood, the study found.

Analysis on the circumstances of fire fatalities found that:
  • Almost all fires – 92 instances – occurred in a private dwelling;
  • Of the 101 fatal fires, there was an even geographical spread. However, more than half – some 57 cases – occurred in a rural setting and the remaining 44 in an urban location. Given just over one in three people live in rural area, this group are over-represented;
  • The majority of those who died (73) were alone at the time of the fire;
  • The most common time for fires occurring were midnight through to 01:59am; and
  • More fatal fires occurred during winter months with the highest number occurring during the month of November, with 13 cases.

Darrin Morrissey, chief executive at the HRB, commented on the report, stating:

“This new HRB research is designed to support the development of evidence-based policies to reduce the number of fire-related deaths in Ireland and increase awareness among those most at risk, especially older people and/or those living alone, and in rural locations.”