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Proximity to vacant buildings is associated with increased fire risk in Baltimore, Maryland, homes
  1. Stephen E Schachterle1,
  2. David Bishai2,
  3. Wendy Shields3,
  4. Rebecca Stepnitz3,
  5. Andrea C Gielen4
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  4. 4Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Bishai, 615 N Wolfe Street Suite E4622, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA; dbishai{at}jhsph.edumailto


Background Fires and burns are a leading cause of unintentional injury death in the USA. Although it has been anecdotally reported that vacant dwellings are at a higher risk for fire, the association between vacancy and fire risk at the individual household level has not been empirically measured.

Methods In this cross-sectional study, geocoded residential vacant properties (VP) and fire events are analysed in Baltimore City at the census tract level and the individual household level.

Results On average, a 10% increase in the proportion of vacancies in a census tract was associated with a 9.9% increase in fires (95% CI: 5% to 15%). Random-effects Poisson models, controlling for housing and neighbourhood conditions, found contagion effects. The risk of fire in an occupied dwelling increased by 8% (95% CI: 1% to 10%) for every vacant structure within 10 m, and the risk of fire decreased by half (95% CI: 45% to 62%) for every km between an occupied dwelling and vacant building. Close proximity to VP was associated with trash fires within dwellings (p=0.039) and structure fires (p=0.012).

Conclusions We believe that this is the first study to demonstrate increased risk posed by nearby VP at the household level, confirming earlier ecological analyses of the role of VP as strong correlates of home fires. Measurement of this risk can motivate property owners, policy makers and insurers to invest in risk reduction measures that include building maintenance and trash removal.

  • Burn
  • Clustered analyses
  • epidemiology
  • geographical/spatial analysis
  • poverty
  • health Services
  • alcohol/drugs
  • international
  • methods
  • economics
  • MVTC
  • Counselling
  • behavioural
  • evaluation
  • psychological
  • violence
  • poverty
  • community
  • child
  • public health
  • education

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  • Funding This study was supported through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (5R18CE001339) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD059216-04).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The study was approved by the Johns Hopkins Institutional Review Board.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed