In 1998, UK local authority fire brigades attended 856,000 fires or false alarms. The decrease - the third consecutive fall - is mainly due to a 16% drop in outdoor fires.
However, estimates show that malicious fires increased by 2% to 88,300, continuing a general long-term upward trend in arson fires.
Other key statistics show:
- the total number of accidental fires fell by 3% to 110,700 - a return to the levels recorded in 1994;
- dwelling fires fell by 2% to 70,700 - the first fall since 1990;
- the number of fatalities as a result of fires in the home - an estimated 489 - is the second lowest number recorded in the last 10 years;
- the largest single cause of accidental death (32%) was careless handling (mainly careless disposal) of smoking materials;
- car fires increased by 8% from 59,400 to 64,000 - malicious fires in cars accounting for two thirds of this total;
- non-fatal casualties fell marginally by 0.5% to 12,800;
- malicious alarm calls fell for the sixth year running to 83,700;
- false fire alarms decreased by 7% - only the third fall since the
The statistics are compiled from reports submitted to the home office on fires attended by local authority fire brigades. Statistics on fire deaths are estimates and subject to revision following later submission of death certificates and inquest verdicts.
Home office minister Mike O'Brien said: 'I am very pleased that there has been such a significant fall in the number fires and injuries, but I am extremely concerned by rise in malicious fires, including fires in cars.
'The government is committed to reducing the incidence of arson fires and delivering communities which are safer from the risk of fire.
'Home office research shows arson costs the community£1.3bn a year. Worse still are its devastating effects on human life and the misery it causes.
'The rising number of car fires - two thirds of which are malicious fires in stolen or abandoned cars - cannot be tolerated. The government is committed to reducing the theft of and from vehicles by 30% in the five years ending March 2004.
'The Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Team, set up by the home office last September, is charged with delivering this target. Reducing the theft of vehicles will provide a consequent reduction in abandoned cars and be reflected in a drop in the number of malicious fires.
'It is clear that no single agency can tackle the problem on its own. Arson has consequences for many agencies including the police, the fire service and insurers.
'I know that many fire brigades are doing good work to address the problem of fire setters, particularly those in the younger age range. It is vital that we continue with this important work to get the message of community fire safety across to everyone in society.'